Looking for Answers in All the Right Places
There’s a lot of stress to go around in our organizations right about now. What you don’t need to do is invite more pressure to your party by holding yourself accountable for having all the answers. I checked the rulebook on this leadership stuff, and it mentions your responsibility for finding the solutions; however, there’s nothing in the book about knowing everything.
Too many in leadership roles falsely believe they own coming up with all the answers. They feel compelled to have the big answers and ideas, and when they don’t, it stresses them or pushes them into making poor decisions that exacerbate the problems.
Consider this as a reminder. If you are leading, you own fighting the right answers. Just remember, your search for ideas and approaches should extend way beyond the person staring back at you in the mirror.
While the story below is from another crisis, the moral is the same. Chances are, the right answers exist somewhere in the creative abilities of the people around you—even your children.
A Case in Point—Rob’s Story
A client I will call Rob told me a fascinating story about how his firm safely navigated the last big financial crisis. Unlike a lot of these stories, Rob was open about the reality that he almost failed. He credits his daughter and his employees for pulling him back from the brink.
A Tough Weekend Spent Facing Reality
I was working at home on the weekend, visibly stressed, and my family was steering clear of me. I had been staring at the numbers for a long time, and all I could was failure flashing in front of my eyes. The cost line was growing while the revenue and cash lines were disappearing.
I had racked my brain but didn’t have any ideas on how to stop the spiral short of laying people off. I was beyond stressed and starting to dread Monday when I would have to tell my long-time employees I had to let them go. Between that thought and having to admit to my family that I couldn’t support them at the moment, my emotions ranged from stressed to feeling humiliated.
How We Got Here:
We had made some significant investments before the crash, and I took on extra debt. At the time, I was confident in our plans and not worried about the investments paying off. After all, we had an excellent track record. However, as our customers succumbed to the financial crash and stopped buying, I found myself wishing I had followed my father’s adage of paying cash for everything. The debt was crushing.
Sometimes the Obvious Isn’t Apparent:
My then 14-year-old daughter came into my home office to check on me and did what only a child can do so innocently—she asked me what was wrong. I looked at her and told her what I was going to have to do. Her follow-on questions jarred me out of my pity party. “Dad, isn’t this going to hurt all these people?” And then, “Have you asked them if they have any better ideas?”
As I stared at the ceiling, not sleeping that night, her questions kept running through my mind. Of course, this would hurt them, and it was hurting me in the process. However, on whether or not I asked them if they had any better ideas, I was less confident. Sure, we had meetings and looked at options, but I hadn’t shared the full story with them and asked for their help. By the time my alarm went off, I knew what I had to do.
Sometimes, Leading Means Asking for Help
I called everyone into the conference room at 10:00 a.m., and I spent the next hour describing the situation and reviewing the numbers. They were quiet. Finally, one of my long-time employees spoke up: “Rob, we all knew things were bad. Maybe not this bad, but the signs have all been there. And you haven’t exactly been pleasant to work around lately.”
The room relaxed once that was out in the open. I looked at the faces of these people I was about to let down and said, “I’m not sure what to do next. I can use your help.”
What happened next brought tears to my eyes.
How They Responded:
The fact that we’re still here today is a credit to how they responded to my request for help. One person suggested we battle this out and live one day at a time. That became our new mantra. Work, as usual, was replaced by work as survival every single day.
We identified all our immediate cost-cutting options. We identified what we could sell off or rent out. And then we turned our focus to finding new ways to help our customers. Oh, and they all agreed immediately to take pay cuts. I even managed to get a small line of credit to help once we had avoided sinking.
A few years later, after the crisis passed, I calculated all of the lost pay, and the happiest day of my professional life was giving them each a check for considerably more than they had sacrificed. And yes, those tears showed up again.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
I’ve lived, worked, and led long enough to know that not every situation has the great outcome of Rob’s story. However, I’ve seen it work multiple times, especially when the leader has the humility to admit they need help and the courage to let them bring their suggestions to life. If you’re struggling to find the answers, remember the wise words of Rob’s daughter, “Have you asked them if they have any better ideas?” I’ll wager they’ll surprise you.
Related Read: You Know It’s Working When You Can Let Go