You don’t know how powerful your executive team truly is until they are put to the test in extreme conditions.
It doesn’t take a single event to create this kind of scenario. We are in now in a fast-changing environment full of twists and turns that keeps conditions extreme.
How do you keep your team energized and engaged so that you can flex and pivot with ease?
Help normalize fear.
“My CFO has checked out,” Sam said. “As hard as it is to think about, I feel it’s time to replace him.”
“Mark has been with you for years,” I said. “What are you experiencing that makes you think you need to replace him now?”
“He doesn’t speak up in meetings. He holes up in his office. The other execs are asking if something is wrong with him,” said Sam. “The last thing I need is to drag him around by my ankle.”
“Sam, Mark has shouldered many changes with you in this business,” I offered. “Don’t you owe it to him to have a deeper, thoughtful conversation about what you are seeing, rather than to just chalk it up to disengagement?”
Sam did talk with Mark. And here’s what he found: Mark was afraid. He admitted that in light of the pandemic and its effect on the marketplace, he felt “frozen in place.” It was hard to think, to make decisions. Mark was feeling alone and paralyzed.
Later, Sam recounted, “And here is what I told Mark: Mark, I’m here. Yes, this is crazy and we don’t have a roadmap. I’m so sorry you have felt alone with this. Why don’t we meet for the next few mornings and talk through where we think we need to pick up in your area of responsibility?”
“Sam, you gave Mark a great gift,” I responded. “These are unprecedented times. Having you recognize where he is, that it’s okay to feel that way, and that you will be on hand to work through this with him.”
“Well, Patti, thank you,” Sam said. “Truthfully, I should have thought to talk with him much sooner. Guess I was wrapped up in my own stuff. And really, to replace Mark would have been challenging for so many reasons – and evidently, unnecessary.”
Ferret out denial.
Cindy recognized that Jim had been making excuses for many weeks, now. He was missing key deadlines and behind on other projects. Each time she confronted him, he chalked it up to the pandemic and unforeseen developments. I urged Cindy to inquire as to what he was working on since he was held up in these areas.
“Patti, I found out that Jim has been focusing on a couple of initiatives that are really back-burner for us,” she reported later. “And when I asked him how he thought this might help us get ahead, he couldn’t answer me. Seems he has been keeping himself busy on things that really don’t matter. And I have just discovered that there are several things he could have been working on that would have helped us at this time. Now what?”
“Cindy, it’s not unusual to go into denial about things when the going gets tough,” I answered. “Jim appears more comfortable focusing on easier initiatives.”
Cindy went back to Jim and had a pointed, but supportive conversation about priorities. She asked him if he had what he needed in order to move forward. After reviewing things with her, Jim sheepishly admitted that he did.
“We’ve agreed to meet a couple of times weekly until we feel things are firmly on track,” Cindy shared. “I’m not sure why this happened.”
“Cindy, when crisis occurs, the stress can be great. Going into denial by carrying on ‘business as usual’ feels comfortable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet the company needs. At the same time, when events such as this pandemic take place, it’s important to huddle a bit more closely and offer support – more than usual. You have a good executive in Jim. And it sounds like you have figured out how to get him moving.”
Identify roadblocks to learning.
“I can’t wait till things get back to normal,” the CEO said. “I’m having a tough time making decisions that work for the current crisis.”
“May I suggest that you may have to acquire some flex in the way you are making decisions,” I countered. “I promise you that we are headed into new territory and that we are not turning back.”
When Harrah’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman talks about the difficulty successful executives face in learning, he often quotes from a 1991 Harvard Business Review article by Chris Argyris: “Because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure.”
Learning new ways to do business in order to respond to changing conditions is necessary. Yet many top executives feel that “once we get over this hump,” that things will fall back to normal. Untrue.
We are already seeing changing customer demands, rapid transitions in the workforce and how it operates, shifting regulations, and more. All this requires that we learn how to do business differently.
The question is not therefore, “When will things get back to normal so that we can breathe easily?” Instead, it is, “What are we learning from this and what skills and abilities do we need to acquire in order to meet the ‘next normal’?”
Where do you need to grow in order to meet the next normal and thrive?
© Patti Cotton and patticotton.com. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that attribution is made to Patti Cotton and patticotton.com, with links thereto.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.