“If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much!” – Lewis Carroll
Many years ago, someone said that being a soldier in a war was made up of long periods of extreme boredom interrupted by brief moments of extreme terror. Certainly nothing I deal with on a daily basis compares to being in a combat situation. But the gist of the statement applies to leaders as well.
There can be long periods of time where leaders spend most of their energy on day-to-day, operational kinds of things. We get consumed with employee issues, vendor issues, customer issues, product issues, etc. All of those things are important, and it’s not necessarily bad to get involved in tactical things (even if we’re trying to focus on being strategic). While you’re doing that tactical stuff, though, it can feel like leadership is a minor part of the job. It’s easy to get lulled to sleep.
Then, every so often, something happens, and everybody in the organization looks at you. And you’re expected to lead. And in those moments, very little else matters.
For example, let’s say perhaps you’re leading a business during a global pandemic (sound familiar?). A few weeks ago you were visiting with an employee about how great it would be if they remembered to refill the paper towel dispenser when it was empty, and today everyone who works for you is wondering whether they’ll be unemployed in 24 hours. Now those tactical things seem forgotten, and all that matters is this giant unknown.
Now is when you have to step up as a leader. In crisis situations, there is very little that matters more than leadership. You have to communicate the situation honestly while at the same time communicating confidence that the organization will come out the other side. You have to engage your people as human beings. They’re anxious or afraid, and those are human feelings that you can’t fix by talking about statistics or data. You have to be able to connect on a human level.
One thing you don’t have to do is have all the answers. It’s OK to say you can’t see the future, that you’re making the best decisions you can with the information you have, that things are changing, etc. Great leaders never act like they know everything. They’re just authentic and they care about the people they lead.
Now is the time when your leadership will have a huge impact on the future of your business. You have to lead. You won’t be perfect, and you will make mistakes, but you can’t hide. Be confident and get to work.