I recently began teaching in the MBA program at Golden Gate University. Being a full time executive leadership consultant and part-time professor forces me to stay current with leadership research and weave that research into a pragmatic solution for clients and business school students.
In a recent episode of AMC's Mad Men (Season 4, Blowing Smoke), a fledgling ad agency is faced with the fallout of losing one of its key accounts, a major cigarette company. Even though the show is fictional and takes place 50 years ago, the situation and reaction of the firm's senior partners felt eerily current.
Consider this. Economic pundits have declared that volatility is the New Normal. Markets are fluctuating wildly day to day. Executive officers, guiding their companies, are afloat in a sea of uncertainty. Investors generally take fewer risks during volatile times. It takes guts to invest when the downside may be greater than the upside. It also takes courage to make major business decisions.
As the leader of my own firm, the hardest thing that I have had to do during these challenging times is manage myself . . . and my own fear. The newspaper headlines do not help. This morning, one of the top headlines in the Wall Street Journal screamed "New Fears as Credit Markets Tighten Up." This was like a red light, siren alert: Marcia, arm yourself, and hold on, it is getting worse. As an expert in human and organizational dynamics, I intellectually know that I am "catastrophizing." That is, I am taking one data point and in my mind, extending it out to its worst possible consequence. I know that this is not healthy emotionally, psychologically, or strategically. It is difficult to shore up my confidence and come up with creative business solutions when my mind and body are frozen with fear.
What follows are the three surefire steps:
Tina Turner made a singing comeback in 1984 with her hit song, "What's Love Got to Do with It?" My husband, a family law specialist in San Francisco has recently worked with some male clients, who I call alpha males, struggling through their respective divorces. Tina Turner claims that "love is a second-hand emotion." However, from what I am hearing, anger, blame, and transference are first-hand emotions and reactions. Going through a divorce at any time is a trying and emotionally draining experience. However, the stress and tension is now exacerbated by the economic decline. Individuals who have enjoyed unfettered economic success, and the ability to buy and demand whatever they desired, are now finding their world crumbling beneath them.
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." Ambrose Redmon
My corporate clients are in a panic. Their business reality, as they knew it before mid September 2008, has shifted. Companies with strong cash reserves are holding back on spending. Companies without strong cash reserves are shedding employees and cutting capital expenditures. The rules of the game have changed. Yet, we all know that some firms will not only survive, but thrive during these shifting times. What will make the difference?
Several years ago, I was on a cross-country flight. The pilot came on and told us that we were going to encounter some turbulence. He explained that we were going through a patch of rough air that was akin to being on top of pot of boiling water. He went on to say that he and the copilot were committed to finding calmer air space. As I recall, he explained that the bumpiness would last about 15 minutes. During that time, we could expect the ride to be quite bumpy. Having a clear picture of what was happening, why, and how long it would last certainly helped relieve the collective passenger anxiety.