Leading in Tough Times 6 – Faith and Framing


It is a truism that a good lawyer never asks a question in court whose answer she doesn’t know.  But some of the fun of live radio is doing just that.  You take a flier on a question without really knowing what you’ll get.  That happened this weekend when I inquired of John Patricolo, executive vice president of Right Management Associates, “I may be putting you on the spot, but I wonder if you’d hazard a guess at what percentage of the clients your company has helped through downsizing and career transitions have felt better about their work and their lives 6 months or a year after coming to you than before they were downsized?”  John, whose firm has helped thousands of folks make that tough life transition, hardly hesitated: “Eighty percent, I’d say.”  I expected a pretty healthy number.  80% really blew me away.

John’s data flies in the face of our rather depressing conventional knowledge.  Conventional knowledge says: challenge is bad; loss is bad; and suffering is definitely bad.  And conventional knowledge says: with good leadership, things will always grow, get better, be smooth.  But that defies all laws, the laws of nature, of economics, or of the world of spirit.  Things don’t forever arc upward.  Instead change is constant, things grow and things shrink, hair grows and then hairlines recede, nights get longer but then shorter, jobs challenge and then jobs become obsolete.  I feel for people who are jolted by a downsizing, a bad health report, or a life loss.  But I also pull back my mind’s camera, frame things larger, and remember that such losses almost never have to be an end but almost always open up to new beginnings.

The conventional view of Michigan’s economy is that the sky is falling.  But observers are missing thousands of rebirths that are accompanying bad news.  Individuals are finding new careers (according to Patricolo, 63% of downsized folks in the Southeast Michigan region are finding jobs there) that are frequently better.  Companies are, albeit painfully, reinventing themselves.  Companies like Herman Miller have paid close attention to their core values and emerged from downsizing as stronger companies.  Individuals in pain are rediscovering enduring values of faith, family, love, and sometimes a long lost passion toward work. And whole new industries are rising up.

One thing we can do as leaders is to draw the frame back from the tight focus on the immediate and see that in crisis lie myriad opportunities for growth.  Our own eagerness and resilience and our FAITH will serve us well as we lead others through times that appear dark but can and usually will yield to the light.

Look for opportunities for rebirth as you

Lead with your best self!



  • Have you begun to contemplate what you really want to do next?

    Remember when you believed that you could change the world? Where are those dreams and aspirations of youth? You may feel you are now ready for a life or career makeover but are not sure what the changes should be. But you know you want more than what is…as you approach your second career.

    Imagine what you’d like to do if you had no constraints…

    Sooner or later, we all yearn to break out of our secure harbors. The heart moves beyond the familiar and convenient into more adventurous realms of possibility. If we don’t break out, our future will always remain in the hands of someone else…not as something we claim fully as our own. Living our life with a deeper understanding draws us to realize our ideals, walk our talk, and act in accord with what we know to be true. Begin by turning your attention to new opportunities you want to explore.

    Create an ‘elevator speech’

    This is a 30-second answer to the inevitable question, “What do you do?”

    It’s how you describe your career transition (where you are and where you want to be) to someone who is riding up the elevator with you. It is brief and to-the-point so that you are able to complete your answer before s/he reaches his or her designated floor. Your distinct answer provides the information the person you are talking to needs to easily remember you and connect you with others (in their personal network) who can help you get to where you want to be.

    Do not begin networking with people until you really know your elevator speech and can easily recite it. If you are unclear on who you are and where you want to be, people can’t help you get there.

  • Great comment from Dan, and some really constructive comments from John Agno, too. Thank you. I won’t say it’s always easy to keep one’s chin up when changes are happening. I can honestly say that whenever I (or most of my friends) have lost their jobs in the past, we’ve wound up with something even better. However, the sinking feeling I have is that Michigan has been the canary in the coal mine … that while our economy has been increasingly tougher over the last ten years — mainly because of the problems in our auto industry — that the rest of the country’s economy is just starting to follow us down the hill, for the same reasons that Michigan has had its problems. But “faith” means believing in something intangible that you believe in. I firmly believe we need such faith.

    On a separate but related note, my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out today to my fellow Unitarian-Universalists in Knoxville, Tennessee, whose peaceful church service turned tragic yesterday. Frankly, I can’t imagine how they’ll keep going, but my faith leads me to know that they will. Take care of yourself, and of each other.

  • Dan,

    Great comments and based on my own experiences, very true. In my life, whenever something happened that I thought was a disaster, it had eventually been a blessing. It has been an opportunity for something new, exciting and enriching. Faith plays a big role in the calmness that comes from trusting and knowing the a painful event can turn into something new and, at times, better.

    Great comments Dan.

    Joe Fasi

  • While I disagree with the political beliefs of the Granholm-Mulhern administration, I always felt that they embraced public service and respected the office. Thus, I am now disenfranchised by two recent events.
    1. While people criticized the Governor for not jumping into the Detroit Mayor mess, it is becoming obvious to most that the governor has no interest. Her connections with his father, through Ed McNamara and her allegiance to the Democratic party over saving a state have become paramount. This became even more true when it was reported last week that she contacted the a Federal Attorney and asked some questionable questions. Various experts questioned whether or not this phone call violated ethics codes. Thus, it seems like from the top, to the Mayor, on down everyone is on this game. Both the Free Press and the News editorial writers yesterday have called on the Governor to extoll leadership despite the political pratfalls that would open her up to.
    2. At a recent gathering of female governors in Pennsylvania while Governor Granholm spoke she asked that those who like her supported Senator Clinton to get on the Obahma bandwagon. I have no problem with this. Then she made a comment that I’ll never forget: “so we can be proud of our country.” Regardless of what party our president has been from, I’ve always been proud of our country… and proud of my Michigan whether it was Romney, Miliken, Blanchard, Engler or Granholm as my leader. I’m sorry that partisan politics means that there’s nothing to be proud about America now. I heard Mike Bishop interviewed on this and I realize he’s the opposition leader but I could even sense in his voice that he was in shock at the Governor’s comments (and not just playing the political game).

    It’s sorry that leadership is only used to look good to the party bosses while letting the state suffer and saying we have little to be proud of with our country.

    • What does your comments have to do with a hill of beans. In all due respect, if you feel the need to bash the governor and her administration , I am quiet sure Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh would be glad to hear from you. However, for those individuals, like mysef, who enjoy reading Dan’s weekly RFL’s would kindly appreciate it, you would keep your negative comments to yourself…… Thank you!!!!

    • Richard,
      1. The governor is a sworn attorney and sworn governor. She is following the law with respect to the Mayor. Many folks are under the misguided impression that there is no law here and she can just toss him out. There is a process the council had to follow, he has rights to respond, and she has an obligation to act. Just as a hypothetical, can you imagine the bedlam IF she removed him and a court overturned it? Do you think things are crazy now?
      2. Taking my wife’s language out of context is purely ridiculous. Jennifer is one of the proudest Americans I know. Like most people who choose – as she did, before anyone else in her family – to become a citizen, she has a deep burning pride in America. I suspect she was talking about pride that occurs when a woman or an African American, an Italian or a Catholic, a Jew or shall I even print it, a homosexual is welcomed into the mainstream. These are things that make the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Constitution, come to full life. It’s one thing to say in an organization: “we’re based on merit.” It’s another thing when the mail boy or an executive assistant is named CEO. Were we prouder of MLB when Jackie Robinson walked to home plate? You bet we were.
      Finally, it is NOT a Granholm-Mulhern administration. It is a Granholm-Cherry administration. Thank goodness for that! 🙂
      — Dan Mulhern

    • Hi Richard,

      I recently visited one of Michigan’s great sites, the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. I think the Ford Museum is a tremendous showplace of the history of Michigan and the U.S. On my recent visit, I noticed a sign from Ford’s 1976 campaign that I had forgotten from previous visits. The sign said simply: “Ford: He’s making us proud again.” Did the statement that he was MAKING us proud imply that prior to Ford’s arrival in the White House, we were not proud? Or did it mean that Ford was making us more proud? Obviously, for many of us, including Republicans, Democrats, and independents, we were not proud of many of the things that happened during the Nixon years. I did not find the Ford sign to be making a partisan statement, even though I’m an independent. According to recent Gallup polls, about 81 percent of Americans agree that America is heading down the wrong path, so I don’t consider the governor’s statement to be partisan. If this weren’t an election year, I think most others would agree with that.

      Michelle Obama recently thanked Laura Bush for saying that Michelle probably meant that Barack was making some Americans more proud, not that Americans weren’t already proud. But, just like our Olympic athletes will soon make us even more proud, it sometimes helps to have things remind us of what America — and Michigan — mean to all of us.

  • I agree that most of us have learned to separate ourselves from our jobs if we succeed in downsizing. However when we review our needs to succeed we are usually faced with a need to become honest with ourselves and stop fabricating to get ahead. When I was a Right, I used the time to focuss on my real interests not what I was expected to do and changed my career and thus I am on my third (State Government, Health Care and now Quality).It is like the current campaign which pledges to save tax dollars while in reality is being used to favor the Governors’ party by subverting the election process. I look forward to the Governor becoming honest with her constituents both with the gerrymandering and the mess in Detroit. Maybe her real interest is not in doing what the Democrates want her to do but what she knows is right!!
    Thank you

  • Dan,

    I was part of the Ameritech corporation during several years of downsizing in management, including elimination of whole layers of the company, and knew many of the people who left in mergers and reorganizations.

    In almost ten years of talking to people involved in the loss of a job, almost all of them related a new way of looking at themselves and their careers. There were a number of people who moved on to BETTER professional work and circumstances and immediately recognized their personal circumstances were better too. Also, a few of the ones who were left behind recognized that there was a big world outside the safety of a single company and left on their own for different work or just a different choice for themselves.

    The conventional knowledge you cite may be gut feelings, but real knowledge should be based on facts, right? I can’t argue John’s 80% guess, because his experience is what it is, and my experience and that of former colleagues is also a guess AT LEAST that high. Maybe we can find a social scientist in Michigan to help define the advantages of challenges and losses?

    Thanks for bringing light to the positive side of change when we adapt ourselves to changing circumstances- another engaging article Dan!



    • Thanks for your experiential feedback, Dennis. Does it strike you how heavily the conventional knowledge (note I don’t call it wisdom) runs against this experience?!

  • Dan —

    I read with interest your words about the “opportunities” presented by hardship. I do not flat-footedly disagree with your premise, but I do see a problem.

    It seems that the people who encourage others that,
    “it’s not so bad” are usually folks who are not
    having any trouble.

    Asked about the economy in the 80’s, George Bush said
    [no, the other, elder one],
    “None of my friends are out of work”.

    We must take care that our call to hopefulness doesn’t sound like arrogance or cluelessness.

    Best wishes

    • Steve,
      I get what you’re saying. Indeed, I have fully expected one of the mainstream papers to pillory me for what they will take (and quote me out of context) as a “let them eat cake” point of view. But criticism or misunderstanding doesn’t change the underlying life truth: things don’t stay the same, and what appears to be bad is often a temporary setback, and furthermore our attitude to change can carry us to much better places.
      You wrote: “We must take care that our call to hopefulness doesn’t sound like arrogance or cluelessness.” And again, I know what you mean, but one of the things we have to face if we’re trying to lead with our best is that we can’t control what we “sound like.” People are always listening through their own filters. And some will say, “Dan or Steve is an idiot.” I’m okay with that (at least the part about me) :-).

  • The idea of downsizing and improving can apply to RFL. IT is likely that the Granholm-Mulhern household will downsize, in a sense, in about two years when they leave the governor’s mansion, which is more of a ranch style house, a mansion. At that time, RFL I hope will continue, and perhaps be made better, in that some readers will not dwell on political issues not well connected to the day’s topic.

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