Leading in Tough Times 3 – fundamentals for leading with authority


Are you in, or have you been in, a system under great pressure, facing overwhelming challenges?  If so, tell me if your experience has been like mine:

In systems – e.g., family, job shop, company, church – where the system’s survival is under stress . . . individuals look out for their own self interest, their own survival.  Sure a few think they better cling to the ship at all costs.  A some small number of others are exceedingly self-sacrificing.  And a tiny fraction have splendidly rose-colored glasses and don’t believe the boat will keep taking on water.  Some, yes, are noble to the point of heroics.  But many, I dare say most, when the system is under pressure, will increasingly see the world through a lens of “me” not “we.”  If you’re the parent, you won’t necessarily see how a kid in a divorcing family will retreat into a highly personal view of survival.  You won’t know in a struggling company how many people are going to Monster.com.  When you’re the mayor or manager in a city under great strain you won’t hear­ how people are talking about their own safety or their own kids’ schools.  But you know they are.  So, what do you do when you want them to think about others, about the whole, the community, family, city?

1.  Talk about the value of the whole.  “We are the Jones Family. . .”  “We are Dansville. . .”  “We are Acme. . .”   If YOU, in authority – the parent, the boss, the owner, the pastor – don’t have pride about your family, your company, your community – in these troubled times, then why should they?  Talk about why they should want to belong.

2.     Interpret the reality.  Yes, they know this is a divorce.  They know, to quote the kids, “it sucks.”  They know the company’s in trouble.  They know that you’re not as charismatic as their last pastor, and some families have left the church.  But help them understand that you know something about why.  You know something about what caused it.  You see that people are nervous.  You understand that anxiety.  And you’re not panicking.

3.     Let them know that you have some strategy to make things better.  Communicate the plan.

4.     Ask for their help.  Tell the kids they can make a difference in the divorcing family.  Ask the employees how they can cut costs or help sell.  Engage the church members in finding a new way to build community.

In short:  communicate more than ever before.  If you don’t engage them in a view of the whole and their place in it, they will retreat to their personal self interest.  If you’re not sure what it looks like, rent “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and watch George Bailey when there’s a run on the bank: Educate about the crisis, inspire a communal spirit, communicate a plan, and give them a way to help.

Be like George Bailey, the quintessential everyday leader, and

Lead with your best self!


  • Strategy Engagement

    Engagement is a term that gets a lot of attention, but very little intentional effort, which often leads to very little impact. Yes, we have to put reality on the table. Yes we have to look at the system as a whole. Yes, we have to put our collective interests into perspective. Yes, we have to be hopeful and future focused. But the real traction in tackling our challenges emerges from a kind of strategy engagement that is built upon:

    1. Respectful Influence

    2. Enthusiastic Relationships

    3. Intentional Discovery

    4. Membership Accountability

    5. Effective Collaboration

    6. Discretionary Behavior

    None of these can be declared. They can be cultivated through the kind of leadership thought and behavior that syncs with strategy. Hope is not a strategy. Strategy is a way of matching the thought and behavior of an organization to create something of value … something of purpose and worth. As the authors of Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic [2008]state so clearly, people get on board when they have a strong sense of purpose and focus, even in settings that are complex and dynamic. That is what we need to focus on – getting the right people engaged.

    Daniel Wolf
    Author, Prepared and Resolved
    Dewar Sloan
    Consultants and Advisors to Management

  • Communicating better and more frequently in tough times matters.

    Take General Electric for example. GE’s CEO Jeffery Immelt could take some lessons from Jack Welch on leadership communication now that GE’s stock price is 32% lower today than when he became CEO in September 2001.

    A new book, “Jacked Up: The inside story of how Jack Welch talked GE into becoming the world’s greatest company” by Bill Lane (McGraw Hill) is a book about what the author and Welch did to make communications better at General Electric (GE).

    This book is about vanity. It is a shot at clarifying the character and personality of perhaps the most significant business leader in history. But, much more important and focused than that, the book is a 20-year foray into how Welch’s “vanity” drove him to change the way the world’s greatest company spoke to the world, and how you can better communicate with and present yourself to your world.

  • George Bailey completely fell apart! His wife pulled the family through! Give credit where credit is due!

  • DGM,

    Even George Bailey faced an individual, who despite the invitation to “stick together” opted to withdraw all of his money from the Building & Loan and close his account. George said, “This is a loan, your account is still open” hoping against hope that this man would return after the panic subsided.

    There are those who are just not team players. They don’t want to be part of the solution, which creates problems for EVERYONE else. When you try to establish a team mentality and you have one bad apple who threatens to spoil it, one stubborn and inflexible apple that drags down the enthusiasm, the productivity and points an accusatory finger at other team members instead of correcting their own behavior – it becomes the focus of the team to fix the “squeaky wheel.” Should that be the focus? Isn’t it an exercise in futility to force all other team members to adjust to the bad attitude of the disgruntled apple rather than to focus on the productivity and simple joy of doing the work?

    In one of the many Star Trek movies, Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” I can see the truth in that. Later, when Kirk rescues Spock, he is asked why he did it. Kirk replies, “Because the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.” I would suggest that both statements are true to an extent.

    I think that every team member is worthy of effort, consideration and compassion – but they FIRST have to WANT to be an ensemble and not a soloist. They have to be willing to sacrifice the ONE for the collaborative “many,” for the common goal/vision.

    The establishment of any team does require a certain amount of sacrifice of your self interests to accomplish a common articulated goal – not everyone is willing to do that and it deflates the energy of the others who are willing to try, willing to sacrifice, willing to help their team members be successful in their positions. How much effort; how long; before the needs of the many outweigh someone else’s personal interests?

    You can talk to people with the “self” mentality until you are blue in the face – and they are only listening long enough to discover what is in it for them. What do you do with that attitude? It establishes a foundation that is the consistency of a sandcastle and makes everyone feel unstable. How can you salvage this teammate without alienating the rest of your team?

    I do not believe that any human being is disposable. But I also think that when something is not working – having tried all that you have mentioned and other techniques also – that it is the obligation of a leader to preserve the part of the team that is functioning.

    It’s like that old joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Ans: One. But the light bulb has to REALLY WANT to change.

  • “It’s a Wonderful Life” is our “family movie.” We watch it during tough times and good times.

    The point is less about who will be a team player, etc.

    George Bailey thought that he didn’t matter–that it would have been better if he had never existed. He felt helpless and didn’t believe that he could do anything to change the situation.

    We ALL need to remember that no matter how bad things are, we CAN control our own reaction, attitude, and influence our “little part of the world.”

    Mike Gaunt, Superintendent
    Chassell Township Schools

  • I am going to continue to be a realist. Leaders come a dime a dozen now days. The family, and community are so antagonized by the economy, which affects are every way of life, it seems that the people we rely on as our leaders have given us very little promise.

    we do yearn for leadership, as well as wanting to be leaders in our homes and communities, but the truth is it seems that the role players can’t even move us. I put my trust in God first.

    Thomas K. Burke
    Corrections Officer

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