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Nov 9, 2011

So let me ask you.... How are you letting the current economic uncertainty impact you?

These are challenging times. As much as I'd love to believe we're rising out of the mire, there's enough ambiguity and lack of national leadership from both political parties that there's plenty of reason to be concerned. That concern can make it even more difficult to lead those on your team who perhaps share even greater concerns.

Leading in times of pressure is what Justin Menkes book is all about. In this premium episode I want to highlight some points from the interview with Justin about you can better navigate these challenging times.

  • Perspective. In my book entitled Navigating the Winds of Change: Staying on Course in Business & in Life, I share how perspective is one of the key ways to thrive during times of high change. Certainly perspective is important these days, so here's a start: Let's not forget that it's been really bad before. Though it sounds rather cliché-like right now, there's wisdom in the saying that "This too really shall pass.” As difficult as it is, I try to remember that challenge can be good. It can keep us focused and innovative if we don't let it paralyze us. Too much of the good can actually cause complacence and boredom. There's no time for us to be bored these days as we have to bring our A game each day to make sure we're delivering value. But let's not forget that better times will eventually arrive.
  • Courage. Times of high pressure demand courage. Remember that courage doesn't mean absence of fear. If you don't have moments of concern you're probably in denial! But courage is moving forward in spite of the fear. It's being willing to step up and refuse to be the victim. I'm actually spending some extended time working with my teenage sons on the topic of being courageous. It's applicable to all of us that desire to thrive during times of pressure, whether at home or in the workplace.
  • Action. It's been said that one of the best antidotes for anxiety is action--taking action instead of sitting back and worrying. What actions do you need to be taking? Maybe it's updating your resume. Certainly it's looking at ways to invest in your skills and abilities. Frankly, I'd love to have you in my Leadership Fast Track Program next year to help accelerate your ability to lead. Maybe it's watching less 24 hour news that has a way of sensationalizing the bad to keep reaping ratings. But let's be clear: sitting back and worrying or even hoping for the best isn't going to help. Taking some action is a great way to attack the pressure.
  • Develop. How are you improving your ability to deal with stress? How are you preparing people around you? Justin's research is clear that being resilient is not just a matter of whether you got the right DNA or not! To a great degree it's nurture, not just nature. Look at the pressure as opportunities to be tested. Watch for those above you who seem to handle stress better than others. What do they do? Offer to take them to lunch to ask them about how they maintain perspective during difficult times. Part of taking action is to develop your own resiliency.
  • Realistic Optimism. Blind optimism may put on a good face, but people see right through it. They can smell it from a distance in baseless promises and unfounded enthusiasm. The alternative that Justin talks about is realistic optimism. It's a deep-seated confidence that acknowledges there are risks and obstacles but that we can do this together. How you feel about the future will ooze from your words, body language and vocal tone--whether it's positive or negative. Justin's book provides many insights on how develop realistic optimism but here's my question for you: where are you on the spectrum? Have you been brewing a negative or pessimistic spirit? I talked with a colleague in the last week who wanted me to be a sounding board to help her prepare for a job change. She reeked of negativity and I know that will waft out like a stench to hiring managers. What do people smell when you talk with them? The sickening sweet scent of blind optimism is not the alternative. Rather, it's the smell of someone who is real--who is grounded in reality but can radiate hope in spite of the circumstances.
  • Agency. Remember Justin's comments about our sense of agency? A key to overcoming stress is to not allow ourselves to succumb to vicimitis! As Justin mentioned, regardless of what you've been dealt, how can you maximize your opportunities? What can you do? Use that same mindset to help people around you when they are falling into being a victim. Help them develop a bias towards action.
  • Meaning. As Justin reinforced in the interview, we all have a need to matter. He said one reason why Southwest delivers such incredible performance in an enormously challenging industry is that their employees feel that their jobs matter. Do you see your role as making a difference? What is it that you and your team are doing that matters? Kouzes and Posner suggest that everyone on our team needs to know with great clarity who the customer is. As former head of P&G A.J. Lafley said, we all need to know the "hot breath of the customer." Team and motivation expert Dr. Adam Grant told me in an interview that it can be helpful to get actual customers in front of your team, helping us all understand the difference that we make for actual people. Help your team understand that what they do matters and you might just find them more focused and resilient during difficult times.
  • De-herofy! I sat next to a former NFL player on a recent flight. He's truly a nice person--I greatly enjoyed our discussion. But it was clear to me that he's his own worst critic. How about you? Don't beat yourself up. Justin talked about de-herofying leaders. You can't be perfect--you'll make mistakes. Have someone you can trust that you can talk with frankly--maybe even whine to or vent--because you can't do it with your team. Expect excellence but don't require perfection.

Justin's book is primarily targeted to senior leaders but there's wisdom there for all of us. It's a book to consider adding to your team's library.

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Total Duration 8:49

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