By: Mike Huang
You’ve identified a key need, made your business case to the suits with the purse strings, and secured a budget. Building your team, you have sought out the best and brightest people throughout the organization, and maybe even recruited outside to find individuals to fill specific needs. If there are smarter people on the planet, they’re either off the grid, retired, or executives at Google.
You’ve taken the time to build an organization that will optimize both creativity and productivity. You’ve spent countless hours fine-tuning your strategy and tactical approach. Nothing has been left to chance.
At this point, you’ve spent considerable time, effort and money to get your team together, trained, and running productively. Processes have been built, tools have been purchased, and development has begun.
You’ve kicked off your project. Excitement is palpable. Your vision will change the world — or at least a small corner of it. With a little luck, this program will make a significant impact in its niche area, and maybe have broader repercussions for many others.
You’re running down the path as quickly as your feet will move, and your team’s fingers can dance across their keyboards. But with many projects, what we hope never happens, does: disaster strikes.
That disaster could be anything ranging from a loss of key funding, a competitor coming out with a competing product that overshadows what your team is working on, or something as personal as a departure or medical issue with a key team member.
In the eyes of many team members, how you handle these events ultimately defines you as a leader.
Are you the type of leader to ignore the critical event and tell them to press on, blowing caution to the wind and put personal feelings aside? Or are you a leader who wants to have a personal meeting with each member of your team to gain an intimate understanding of their concerns, pains, and fears?
Successful leaders will ultimately handle adversity in an honest, positive way.
1. Be Honest
You’ve got intelligent people on your team. That’s why you’ve hired them in the first place. They will see through any unnecessary spin that is put on a bad situation. More importantly, good people will value personal integrity and reciprocate with their loyalty. Things may be bad now, and they may get worse, but smart employees who see that you’re blowing a smokescreen will be more likely to flee rather than stick around to deal with the aftermath. Be honest with what you know (within reason and the law), and what your plans are to rectify the situation.
2. Don’t Bear the Burden Alone
If you could have built your company without anyone else (e.g. architects, engineers, business analysts, quality assurance, marketing, HR, etc.), you surely would have, right? But the reality is that running a business is a team sport, and everyone on your team has a vested stake in the success of your project. Don’t assume that your team can’t help you. Leverage your team’s willingness and ability to help build additional ownership in the solution. This will drive a more effective, concerted effort to get to a better place. If your challenge is the unexpected departure of a team member, they can help develop the plan to fill in the gaps. If competition is making a surprise announcement, your team may have ideas on how to counter the challenge. If funding is an issue, they may volunteer ideas on how to keep the project rolling by cutting costs, improving revenue, or realigning staff.
One of the most difficult skills to master, listening is critical to a modern team’s success. Your team will have concerns, issues, and most importantly, ideas. It’s easy to be the leader who extolls the virtue of your own ideas, the company’s vision, or the plan that was agreed upon by senior management. But capturing good actionable ideas that will help the team move forward (and consequently improve morale) is far more challenging. The payoff is a deeper buy-in from your team, as well as solutions from a different perspective.
4. Stay Focused
What’s the next step to overcome your conundrum? What solutions can you and your team build to get there? How can their skills move the project forward? Keep your eye on the goal — overcome this obstacle and get back on track to your original plan. Or perhaps there’s a newer, better plan that may arise from the ashes of your current project? This wouldn’t be the first time. After all, R.H. Macy had 7 failed businesses before founding Macy’s department stores, and Soichiro Honda was turned down from a job at Toyota before founding Honda Motors. And how many people remember Bill Gates’ and Paul Allen’s first company before Microsoft, “Traf-O-Data?”
Time and time again, history has proven that the most important asset to any successful business is the human capital — people. Respecting your team through honesty and integrity, and empowering them to make decisions while being part of their own destiny has proven to be a winning formula.
So, if and when crisis strikes, be honest with yourself and your team. Let them know that you’re in this with them, and that you’ll get through it together.