Meeting the challenge of turbulent times

In dealing with turbulent times, the first requirement is attitudinal: leaders and organizations need to remain goal-focused, determined and—crucially—they need to be flexible. That much is obvious and will be said by many.

But, if people around you are defaulting to blaming external circumstances (and maybe if you’ve privately had a wobble yourself), how do you do it?

Time is of the essence. Fortunately, mind-sets can change instantaneously.

Ask yourself: What experiences do we already have that we can call on right now?

man-drivingFor example, most people are never more goal-focused, more determined, and more flexible in adapting to unwanted developments than while driving home from work. If you apply that mind-set to business decisions, the results are powerful.

Imagine you are driving home in heavy traffic after a long day. You know the route well. The traffic is a bit heavier than usual, but things are moving. Putting the challenges of your work day o n mental hold until the morning, you start to look forward to your dinner.

But then, as you approach a junction, you find your usual way blocked by bright red signs, and orange and white plastic barriers.

Roadworks have sprung up unexpectedly during the day. You curse under your breath.

If you are like most people, at this point you stop the car in the middle of the road, get out, kick a tyre, and sit on the pavement in a rolled-up ball, holding your head in your hands while weeping to yourself about the cruelty of circumstances and how you can’t possibly go on in the face of…

No. Stop. Rewind.

road-closedIf you are like most people, as soon as you see your route blocked, and simultaneously whilst cursing under your breath, you pop into a state of heightened alertness, automatically scanning your surroundings and looking for a way to keep the car rolling, all the while rapidly reviewing and evaluating mental images of alternative routes. You select one. No, it’s blocked. You cut down a side road, mentally recalculating, searching for the flow, finding a way around the blockages, and finally, later than planned and maybe a bit more tired and hungry, you make it to the dinner table. So does everyone else. No one gives up and remains balled-up on the pavement.

The best executives I have observed share an amazing capacity to cope with unwanted circumstances with acceptance, determination and flexibility. They have the same attitude and mental strategy as the driver on their way home, but importantly they’ve learned to apply that same mind-set to their leadership role.

So once the mind-set is in place, what’s next?

I discussed this with my own mentor Alan Weiss (we all need trusted advisors), and here’s what came out of that discussion. As in any turbulent time, you need a focus on the following:

  • Re-evaluate the risks and rewards attendant to any decision or venture: Instead of instinctively classifying expenditure as cost, think about risk-adjusted return on investment.
  • Re-examine your current strategy: are you still selling the right things to the right people? Are you creating value for them?
  • Protect the most critical customers: Don’t become self-absorbed. What do they need?
  • Find and exploit the new opportunities, both external (will you be the first to meet emerging customer needs?) and internal (turbulent times are often the easiest times to get an organization to change focus).