Needed Now More Than Ever:
Four Steps That Work
By Joe Takash
How do you motivate people in an economy that is highly unstable and
Encouragement, optimism and honest communication.
This may seem counterintuitive to task-driven managers who
focus on the news headlines and the bottom number in their ledger.
Granted, the economy is shaky and companies in almost every industry
are either feeling the tremors or getting hit head on by the
financial power outage. Things have changed dramatically and in a
short period of time leaving countless organizations thinking, “I
have no control over this.”
On the contrary. The market will go up and down but obsessing
over it forces good businesses to make bad decisions. A prudent
investment is to focus on building human capital and it starts with
influencing your people to perform at a higher level.
The need for leaders to manage relationships with staff and
clients is greater than ever, but what are the specific actions
required? The following four steps, if implemented, can help
Practice emotional control: It’s easy to lead when times are
good and business is flowing like fine wine. However, when times are
stressed, does your impersonal autopilot take over put the business
process before the welfare of your people?
You may justify calculated decisions by saying, “it’s
business,” but if you need people for business, remember this:
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you
Client trust and employee loyalty are developed most
effectively by those who can be relied upon to connect with others
respectfully, timely and competently. How you connect with others
when times are hot says a lot about how they’ll respond to you when
things go cold.
The area where our thoughts and decisions filter through is
typically emotional. True “thought leaders” are able to execute at a
high level because they can demonstrate compassion and
understanding, while maintaining clinical objectivity. A key action
step is to be sure to get feedback on how cool you are when times
2) Provide frequent
Many executives create stress and resentment with those they manage
because knowledge of company status is not shared. In the absence of
feedback, we will create our own and it’s often negative. When
people are uninformed, they work from a place that does little for
building trust or morale.
A great way to keep teams and individuals informed is to
designate time on your calendar to share your knowledge. These
updates should be initiated by you, the leader. They must involve
honest disclosures of what you do know, what you don’t, what you can
share and what you cannot.
A colleague named Jill is a brilliant business development
manager. Recently, her firm was involved in a merger and she was
instrumental to the success and seamlessness of the transition.
Ironically, not a single partner on either side of the merger took
time to meet with Jill and inform her what role she would play when
the transaction was completed.
Jill inquired often and the executives, self-involved and
ineffective in communication, never provided her a solid answer.
When she finally gave her notice, you would have thought someone
pulled the fire alarm as every big shot made desperate attempts to
woo her back and keep her aboard. But it was all in vain.
The very effort of proactive communication is not only
crucial for competent alignment within organizations, but it can
have significant impact on the retention of immensely talented
contributors like Jill.
3) Become an
Getting people to perform in tough times requires understanding. A
checklist for this type of listening includes:
others to talk: Get your staff and clients to talk about
themselves by asking open-ended questions, i.e., “How are things
going? How you are doing?” “What suggestions would you give to
improve our current working situation?” or “What concerns or
questions do you have that I have not addressed?”
speak, clarify for certainty: You can accomplish this by
repeating what people have said by rephrasing the their
message. “If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re telling me
that…” or “Let’s see if I completely understand what you’re
saying…” Paraphrasing shows respect for team members and client
ideas and keeps miscommunication to a minimum.
distractions: Many leaders attempt to multi-task which generally
achieves little. It’s important to show focus on those you’re
listening to by shutting the door, turning off your cell phone,
turning away from your computer or forwarding your office
phone. Let the person know that his/her message is valued and
Many people believe that they are good listeners, but
employee surveys often indicate very few leaders are exceptional.
Amid uncertainty, people want information, but they also want
ownership, value and yes, even a little bit of therapy. Listen at a
deeper level and you’re likely to create more committed and
4) Lead with
Jeff is a long time client and CEO of what once was a thriving bank.
Recently, however, his branch has taken repeated, devastating blows
from the swing of the financial market. He is a positive guy, yet in
a conversation with him a couple weeks back Jeff said, “It’s hard to
smile when you keep getting kicked in the teeth.”
Leading in turbulent times can bring the sobering reality of
negativity, anxiety and stress. It can not only turn careers upside
down, but can take a toll on home lives as well. And while you want
to hear the straight story with no strings attached, think about
this: Would you rather follow someone who is constantly preaching
failures and bad luck or someone who is persistent in finding
Attitude and the behaviors that go with it are contagious.
Leaders need to paint pictures that are reflective of the truth, but
they must also speak about possibilities. It’s easy to get swept up
in the bad news, but the mettle of our character is how we get off
the deck when we’ve been knocked down.
In the situation with Jeff, he remains optimistic that things
at the bank will not only stay afloat, but rebound for the better.
In talking to those who work for him one bank employee said, “There
is not leader I’d rather follow than Jeff. He’s been supportive of
the uncertainty and worries of his employees.”
Jeff remains resolute throughout, preaching, “Times are
tough, but we must be tougher and realize that our success will be
the result of our conviction to seek solutions and be persistent.”
Again, it’s a heck of a lot easier to lead with optimism when the
times are in line with the message. But now is when real leaders are
challenged, navigating unfamiliar territory they’ve never been.
In continued studies of how relationships impact business
results, the need to establish and cultivate business connections is
greater than ever. Remember, people think on logic, they act on
Motivating others requires action.
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