A Survival Guide: Are You Going to Be The Last One Standing?
Sometimes managers feel like the last of a dying breed. Downsizing, cutbacks and corporate shutdowns have, indeed, cut management staffs to the bone. If you're one of the few left standing, you know it's a lonely feeling. And, let's be honest, it's also a scary one. You don't know how to best ensure your own survival, so chances are you're lying low, taking care not to make waves, and hoping the ax-wielders simply won't notice you. But this is not the time to toe the status-quo line.
"As the metaphorical 'last man standing,' you have an opportunity -- no, an obligation -- to take a strong leadership stance," declares Dennis Haley, who with co-author Ed Ruggero, covers this subject in their new book, "The Leader's Compass: Set Your Course for Leadership."
"The ethical and financial scandals that have rocked the business community lately were caused, or at the very least enabled, by yes-men and yes-women who adapted, chameleon-like, to what was going on around them," Haley says. "This fact is reason enough to adopt a policy of strong, inspirational, principle-based leadership. The other reason is that when people are being weeded out, those with the strongest roots are the hardest to get rid of."
So what are the characteristics of strong leadership? Haley says that to see the answer in action, we need only to look to America's military academies. Indeed, Academy Leadership uses principles taught and practiced at West Point and the Naval Academy to conduct in-house training programs and workshops to develop leaders who achieve powerful business goals. Words such as perseverance, accountability, communication, self-discipline and character are often heard in these sessions.
If you are to remain a viable, valuable leader for your company even in the worst of economic times, Haley suggests you embrace the following guidelines:
* Develop a personal leadership philosophy (PLP). Basically, your PLP is a written document that includes your personal values, how you will carry out your responsibilities, what your priorities are, and what you expect of your people. Take your time and really think about what your beliefs and standards are. This document is the foundation for everything you do and say from here on out.
* Familiarize yourself with the goals and values of your organization. Figure out how they fit into your philosophy. Read your company's mission statement and really ponder it. Is it just a string of empty words or do employees live up to it? How can you ensure that your PLP meshes with your company's mission? There should be a certain synchronicity between the two. If your goals and values differ dramatically from the demonstrated ones of your company, you must make a decision: Can you influence your company to live up to the glowing words on its mission statement? Or is it time to move on? Remember Shakespeare's quote from Hamlet: "This above all: to thine ownself be true."
* Articulate your personal philosophy and your company's goals/values to your team. Once you've written your PLP, share it with upper-level management and subordinates. Make sure they fully understand every word. Also, explain the connection between your personal philosophy and the goals and values of your organization. Your team needs to be crystal-clear on what you stand for and what you expect from them. How else will you ever be able to hold them accountable?
* Model your personal leadership philosophy. Live it with passion. Your employees expect you to lead by example. Saying one thing and doing another will not inspire anyone. If you expect your team to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline, you must burn the midnight oil right along with them. Anything less will breed resentment and lose you the respect of your team. And don't forget the most critical part of the equation: vision.
* Don't be afraid to make the tough decisions. Here's a key parallel between military life and business life. In the heat of combat, leaders must make split-second decisions that are literally matters of life and death. Likewise, the decisions you make at work really can affect the vitality -- and in some cases, the very existence -- of your organization. That's why you must make your decisions with confidence and resolve.
* Hold people accountable. When you are leading men into battle, their lives are in your hands, and yours in theirs. Everyone depends on the rest of the company not to let them down. This is the very definition of accountability. Now, translate this principle to the "battlefield" that is the business world. When you're the leader, you owe it to your team to give 100 percent to everything you do. So does your team.
* Build your bench. Too many businesses view leadership as some mysterious trait you're born with, says Haley. But at the service academies, it's expected that many people have leadership potential, and these organizations work to bring out that potential. "This is how you should approach leadership training," he says. "As a leader, you are only as good as your ability to develop others. The fast pace of today's business world and the flatter, leaner management structures mean that more critical decisions must be made at lower levels than ever before. You must ensure that your people have the leadership abilities to make these decisions."
* Don't be a lone wolf. And if you're a gray wolf, don't ignore the brown ones. A strong leader is not a one-man (or one-woman) operation. If you can't delegate, you can't lead. But if you're like many leaders, you may favor those people with whom you feel most comfortable: the ones most like you.
* Don't get stuck in survival mode. In anxious times, we tend to operate with tunnel vision, working fast and furious to meet our customers' needs. That's normal. But when things are a bit more relaxed -- perhaps during a seasonal lull in business -- it's time to step back and reflect on the big picture. Has the market shifted? Have societal changes made your goods and services applicable to more customers? Fewer customers? Are you missing an opportunity to move in a new direction? Don't be afraid to adjust your personal leadership philosophy or your company's goals if there's a good reason to do so. And, of course, don't forget to communicate any changes to your team.
* Never, ever, ever stop growing. Life is change. So is business. You must grow as a leader, every day. And your organization must grow as well. In successful organizations, the two will happen in tandem. Don't use an unsteady economy as an excuse to be static; don't be afraid to take well-thought-out risks. Actually, standing still is a risk, because that's when you get run over by the competition.
* Finally, try to see this uncertain time in your career as an opportunity, not a liability.
Dennis F. Haley and Ed Ruggero can be reached through www.academyleadership.com.