“There are two kinds of tough times”, an old friend used to say. “Times can be tough because that’s the way they are – and they can be tough because that’s the way you are.”
Many of my coaching clients start out with the first type of problem. My job is to get them working smart – avoiding the kinds of mistakes and missteps that had cost them so dearly in the past. My definition of effective coaching focuses on reducing those ‘tough times’ to a bare minimum. Then there is the other ‘tough times’. We are in the middle to plenty.
It is during times like these that CEOs discover how challenging it sometimes is to be a leader. They strive to keep themselves and their people motivated and aware of the prospects for business. The CEO knows that tough decisions are coming – and so do his people. Rising uncertainty is going to increase apprehension within the team. Senior team members are also going to face some tough challenges. The focus within the team is going to become very instrumental – improving sales, lowering expenses, or improving client service. The CEO has to find a way to keep the team productive and focused.
Earlier this year I began organizing a series of triage session with each of my clients. The initial meeting in each series occurred during the spring of 2008. In each case, we began to plan responses to potential developments. Because of these sessions, the team developed a confidence in their ability to adapt, innovate and overcome. Over time, we involved more of the employees in the process. They took to referring to the sessions as the ‘disaster du Jour’ parties.
In each of the companies, something interesting and quite unanticipated happened. The confidence levels of the teams increased substantially. They became used to dealing with crises – even through they were f aux crises. The teams became more agile and focused. When the real crises set in, they were better able to respond.
I do not mean to suggest that things are sunnier within these companies. There are tough times out there. However, they are dealing with them more effectively than most of their competitors.
Something else has happened. In the midst of dealing with the current situation – while cutting budgets, putting orders on hold, reducing staffing and the like, the team is also getting the company ready for the upturn. They are planning beyond the current crisis. This is extraordinary. The ‘disaster du Jour’ parties have trained them to respond to crisis by focusing on challenges and quickly and proactively developing solutions – then implementing them with confidence. The teams are not cowed by the crisis – they are planning through and beyond it.
One of my clients – a CEO of a middle market company, put it this way, “Now is the time to engage our people to create the future. We need to tap into the talents of our people and get ready for the coming good times”.
When I asked him to expand on that he said, “We need to focus our efforts on the future. The team needs to develop a clear vision of the road ahead. My senior team needs to rally the troops and keep them positive and eager for the coming upturn. We need to form and empower teams to address the opportunities that are inevitably going to come to us. I need to make sure that we are keeping track of our progress and preparation – and I need to make heroes out of those who answer the call – come to the line and contribute.”
This experience has reminded me that much of what I do – much of what I contribute as a coach – involves teaching and preparation for events that have not happened and may never happen. Nevertheless, even if they never happen, the residuals of the training and the experience of successful teamwork are positive. The ‘can do’ attitude that each team developed during the ‘disaster du Jour’ parties has carried over and is now delivering real benefits during the current storm. They know how to deal with it and they know they can beat the odds. The team is stronger than the storm.
If you want to learn more about my team coaching approach, send me an e-mail and we will arrange a time to talk.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II