Expert Commentary

Change Is Change

Back in 2010, I wrote about the sky falling. Our economy was in awful shape. Many businesses failed, especially in the banking and housing sectors. People were looking everywhere for someone to come to the rescue. To those who would listen, I replied, "The hero is not me, nor the government, nor Chicken Little. The hero is you—the industry leader."

Leadership at All Levels
April 2016

Nowadays, some part of the sky is always falling. Just as we were getting back on our feet from the problems of 2008, we started finding out that the efficiencies we built into the oil productions process caused unexpected consequences, and oil prices dropped. So now, in 2016, the oil industry is struggling. In my more-than-3 decades as a businesswoman, it seems like I have seen a new crisis every few years. This is called life.

Plan for Crisis

Leaders must continually adapt, adjust, reflect, and plan. The one constant is that there will always be a crisis to manage. The very nature of leadership must involve continual crisis management. As business leaders, we are the ones who must remain standing after hurricanes, economic downturns, the loss of a key employee, fires, or political scandals that affect business. Each of us has a part in the solution.

Some of the very steps we take to ensure our survival after these types of crises will ensure our survival through stock market crashes, dot com fiascos, and economic meltdowns. Part of what we do is in preparation; much of that preparation is basic risk management—careful planning for all possible eventualities and sharing that information with anyone who will listen. We have our backup drives, our flashlights, and our phone trees. And when the going gets really rough, as leaders, we make extremely difficult decisions. We cut where we must, and, as good leaders, we hate it. This should be done only in the rarest of circumstances because, when times are hard, the tide will turn (it always does), and we will need those employees, those vendors, or that equipment back.

Often after the fact, folks say that the hard decisions should be made before the crisis hits. But most of us are generous—sometimes to a fault. We tend to hand in with an employee or vendor, hoping for better performance or higher productivity. And why not? When times are good, generosity is valuable.

Relationship Building

Be comforted by the fact that there is one thing that doesn't change—humans don't change that much in a single lifetime. Processes change, laws are passed, and IT systems flux, but the human psyche is just the same as it was 1,000 years ago. Just keep in mind that our skill at relationship management, as leaders, is never more valuable than in tough times.

Conversely, any lack of skill at relationship management will never glare back at us more harshly than during a downturn. Relationship building is critical for dealing with any difficult situation. While we often feel the need to act sharply as adrenaline and survival mode overtakes us, we mustn't forget that we are dealing with human beings. The same set of skills we used in good times will work in bad ones. Remember this when it gets tough: you may need to change a lot of things, but maintain those relationships.

Whatever decisions you must make, bear in mind that there is an effect up and down the ladder when major changes are made. Anticipate the unintended consequences. Even the simple distraction from the change can be managed! So stay close to your various circles. You need the "juice" from other brains—that connectedness—that happens when we work together to solve a problem. There is nothing else on earth that can duplicate it.

Some studies have shown increased neural activity in social settings versus in isolation. There seems to be a physical reaction in our brain matter when we are physically in a room with another human (versus communication in isolated forms). As we apply this to management and leadership, consider seriously the simple value of working through problems together, as a group, to find better solutions. Talk to your employees. Ask them about possible solutions. Seek out your partners, vendors, and peers and brainstorm. Visit with new friends about old ideas and vice versa. Listen more and talk less. We know how to do this. Our collective wisdom over centuries is not for nothing!

Consider, too, the value of making adjustments based on the audience. For example, we know there are distinctions between generations. That valuable observation helps the leader's understanding of the contributions and abilities of those groups. Generally, the actual needs are the same; we are all still human. It's just the style, not the substance, in how you address those needs that may change.

Can we bring down a few walls, too? Competition, thank goodness, is alive and well. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are at war with each other. The enemy may be the economy, political programs that hinder competition, or Mother Nature. Healthy competition is good. We can even share information and help each other and build respect for our peers without sacrificing food on our own tables.


What can we do to fix the economy on our own? You start with your own little piece of the pie. Don't be overwhelmed; just focus on the areas where you have control. Change is change—that's all. It's not a monster or a villain. It's just life on earth. And, usually, it's good and keeps us from stagnating and dying. Manage it well, and change can be your friend and ally.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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