Leadership in Tough Times
Times are getting tougher. Most of us are not the top
person in leading our organization; we are line supervisors and middle managers;
but it's still getting tougher. While we don't make the big decisions we have a
responsibility to provide leadership for our organizations and for our
followers. Indeed, if enough of us in the ranks make small adjustments the
cumulative effect on our organizations may forestall the sweeping cut-backs
coming from the top. We have a responsibility to act and here are five cards
you can play:
Get Your Head on Straight
If you are anxious and unsure about the future you are
definitely going to communicate that to your followers. First and foremost, get
your personal house in order. Recognize that you have personally, somehow,
survived past instances of impending doom. Okay, I am 49 years old I made a
list of the doomsday stuff I somehow survived: Cuban Missile Crisis (even at
four years old I recall my parents being pretty wacked out); gasoline shortages
(remember odd and even days of buying gas?); hyper inflation of the 70s; Savings
and Loan Crash of the 1980s; divorce (enough said); death of my parents;
children being deployed to a combat zone; retirement from civil service - do I
need to go on? What does your list look like? What have your survived? You
are a lot tougher than you think and so are your followers.
Look at your organizations mission, vision and values.
Why are you doing what you do? What is fulfilling about your work, your
organization and your followers? The point of getting your own head on straight
is to put todays events in perspective. Perspective will give you the
confidence to lead through the problems and what you will communicate to your
followers is an informed confidence - not a Polly Anna view - an informed
confidence that we can make it through to the other side.
Recognize Your Followers Difficulties
It's not just their jobs they are concerned about. They
may be anxious about their personal futures: foreclosure; credit; children;
parents - they have their own lists of anxieties, difficulties and challenges.
Like you, your followers need to get their head on straight. But, it's your
job as the leader to assist them. If you are fortunate enough to have any
employee assistance program at your workplace, pick up the telephone and become
familiar with their services. If not, as you talk with your followers, create a
file of the resources they have used to overcome their challenges.
Find different ways to disseminate information on solving
personal problems. As an example, at staff meetings take sometime to talk,
generally, about the problems your followers may face and the resources and
services available to assist them. Just as importantly, talk about your
organizations mission, vision and values. By giving them assistance with their
potential personal problems and re-focusing followers on mission, vision and
values you can instill informed confidence in them.
Cut the Creep
Mission creep is a relative new term defining a very old
human problem. Generally, it is the expansion of activities beyond an
organization's stated goals. Sometimes mission creep occurs because we did not
understand the nature of the original goal. As we worked toward obtaining a
goal, we found there were other obstacles and challenges that need to be
resolved. Instead of re-evaluating the goal, we do more and more until we lose
sight of the original goal. In other instances, mission creep occurs during
good times and following success. We take on more because we can.
If you are going to have to cut-back in your shop, use your
mission, values and organizational vision as a lens to examine workplace
activities. What do you do that definitely adds value to your organization?
What do you now do as a result of actually trying to do something else? What
did you add during successful times that are not part of your shops original
function? In other words, if you have to cut - look to cut mission creep.
This article is about the potential cumulative impact of
line supervisors and middle managers. You are unlikely to be in a position to
make huge changes, but you can very likely make small ones. Added together,
small efficiencies can make huge changes. So, here's the question: What can
you do a little bit better? A small reduction in the use of inputs or a small
increase in the production of outputs is your goal.
The first benefit is obvious - if enough of an
organizations leaders create small efficiencies, the organization likely
experiences a larger increase in efficiency. The second benefit is much less
obvious - you (and your followers) can gain a measure of control during a time
when it seems things are outside of your control. Gaining a measure of control
can reduce anxiety. You can probably see the cycle here - getting your head
back in the game can focus you on your original goals; using your original goals
to create small efficiencies gives you a measure of control; a measure of
control gets your head further back into the game, and so on.
People not Stuff
If you have to make choices between people and stuff -
default to people. Any technology your organization buys depreciates. It has
less value over time. It gets old, it breaks, it needs updates or it is
replaced by version 2.0. And, any purchase you have not yet made does not have
tangible costs associated with it. You can speculate all you want on how a
technology will make you more efficient, but until you purchase it, it hasn't
cost you anything or made you anything (leave your arguments about competition
aside for a moment).
On the other hand, every employee is a sunk cost. You
spent money hiring, training and inculcating them. More importantly, almost
always, employees increase in value. They learn new skills, acquire
organizational memory, etc. Employees appreciate, stuff depreciates. If you
have to make a tough choice, default to people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA is the
author of several law enforcement related books including Leadership: Texas Hold
'em Style. He can be reached through his website at