Don't waste a good crisis.
I was part of an incredible team in Canada that tried unsuccessfully to do what no retailer had ever done before: Open 124 stores across the country in less than a year. It was an exhilarating project… until it wasn’t … until things started falling apart … faster than anyone could have imagined. And then the press started. It spun out of all of our control. And there it was. The richest leadership experience of my career. You can’t make up a good crisis.
What do you do when the chips are down? When the shit is hitting the fan? How bad has it ever gotten for you? Do you know how you operate in a crisis whether it is personal or business? In this scenario, our behaviors tend to be reflexive and defensive instead of thoughtful and strategic. Some examples include:
Self preservation - The most human of all behaviors. We forget about the mission of the group or the team and we only focus on making sure we are ok.
Silver lining syndrome – Everything is going to be fine. It’s getting better. And then the worst… the “At least” sentence which looks something like: We’re probably all going to get fired after this. At least we have this international experience on our resume! (OMG)
We crumble – We fall apart. We can’t function. We’re distressed and not sure what to do.
For me, my reflex is to turn inward, put my head down and just go. It’s hard for others around me when I get like that. I go faster, work harder until I can see meaningful progress, and then it’s back to our regularly scheduled program. I never spent time reflecting about how I operate when things don’t go well and the impact that has on others around me which was a huge missed opportunity. But then I had to weather the biggest crisis of my professional career and it forced me to get clear about how I want to show up. While I certainly learned a lot of hard lessons along the way, here is how I tried to intentionally show up and weather the storm:
I decided I WOULD be defined by how I showed up for my team. So instead of turning inward as I usually did, I did the opposite. I over communicated transparently about what I knew and how I felt about it. I was accessible, and out there for my team. I showed up. I was vulnerable and honest about what I knew and didn’t know. And most importantly, I made sure that everyone understood that this doesn’t define who we are.
I reframed what success looked like for my team. As humans, we want to win. I’m not saying it’s ok to constantly move the goal line, but in order to keep things moving forward, teams need to be focused on reasonable goals that are within their reach.
I chose courage over comfort. (Thank you Brene Brown!) Meaning, I was very honest about how things were going (and usually, it wasn’t good). I was able to build a rapport with my boss where I practiced delivering bad news (v. uncomfortable) and what I was going to do about it. This is a far more productive way to work, than always trying to find a silver lining.
Canada was by far the richest leadership experience I have ever had in my career. A true crisis that taught me a level of resiliency I never could have imagined. I certainly did not do all of those things seamlessly, but that experience allowed me to get clear about how I show up when things don’t go well. Now, I feel like I’m ready for anything.
How do you show up when things get hard?