Adversity Defines Leadership

Here’s a scary thought: Even I could be an effective leader during the good times. The money rolling in would sweep all my mismanagement moves under the rug, minimize my meddling fingers, and keep my employees gainfully employed. In essence, I wouldn’t have to lead, and that would be good for everyone’s attitude. As my father, at the tender age of 94, is so fond of saying, “Every dog has its day.†I submit that every leader has his or her day as well, and the time for real leaders to step forward and make use of their needed skills is right now. You already can see it happening. Companies with strong leaders are surviving, and they are positioning themselves for the forthcoming recovery. Their management teams have made the tough decisions, taken advantage of company strengths, and focused on retaining their best customers. Management has been creative, committed and inspiring. I say inspiring because I believe that in itself is a sign of sound leadership. Sure, you have to make sure that employees understand how tough the market is. At the same time, if you’re all “doom and gloom,†what kind of message is that sending to associates charged with selling your services and maintaining your accounts? Being optimistic (at least on the surface) in the face of 20%, 30% and 40% declines in revenue is difficult, but it’s also leadership’s charge. Getting back to my dad for a second, I don’t hold a candle to his mettle and leadership abilities. Like so many people his age, he lived through the Great Depression and has a drawer full of “hardship†stories to relate—something he enjoys pulling out when he thinks I’m whining about something insignificant. I can’t relate to those stories and hope I never have the opportunity. What I can relate to, though, is what I’ve seen later on in his life when a tornado leveled his farm equipment dealership and a lightning bolt burned his dairy barn to the ground. Either one of those occasions probably would have leveled me, but not him. In fact, he seemed to almost relish tackling these new challenges. As head of our family, he never exhibited anger or despair, but instead looked at the bright side and just went about his business, constructing a new dealership, selling off the cows and moving forward. I know that you can’t compare what he experienced to what our industry is going through today, but it is times like this that define true leadership. If you’re in a difficult market offering exclusively design/build services, your row is extremely tough to hoe. It may just be a matter of hunkering down and surviving until the turnaround. Other contractors, though, are still finding themselves in a difficult market, but with opportunities to leverage their strengths. Sales may be down and reasonable margins tough to get, but there is business out there. How much of that business you capture and how well you encourage your employees to give that extra effort will define your ability to lead. ~ Rod Dickens, senior editor