Why it’s easier to lead under pressure, than when things are going well
It’s said that the true qualities of a leader are revealed under pressure. When cash is running low and competitors are flying high, that’s when a leader shows their worth.
In many ways, leading in a crisis is easier than leading when things are going smoothly. Pressure forces decisions.
But making tough, strategic, forward thinking decisions when an organisation is doing well is difficult.
The mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is incredibly hard to resist. But that’s what the really good leaders do.
The paralysis of choice
Too much choice can overwhelm us. Anyone who has tried to pick a main course from a restaurant menu that’s several pages long knows exactly how much choice can overload our senses. Everything seems appealing.
But the way you would look at a food menu if you hadn’t eaten for days would be very different. You’d probably choose incredibly quickly and you’d probably choose well. Your brain would force you to make a quick decision on the food with the most nutrition.
A ticking clock forces you to trust their instinct. It strips away the distractions and flights of fancy. In business, it helps you make the calls that will most likely move the needle, however unpopular the decision may be.
So how do you replicate that kind of decision making when the good times are rolling? Here are some ways to keep focusing on making tough decisions when times
1) Figuring out what went…right
When something goes drastically wrong in a business, there will inevitably be a thorough post-mortem. Who did or didn’t do what? What did or didn’t work? What could or should have been done?
But when something goes right, few businesses go into such forensic detail to get to the root of success. It’s human nature. The hunt was a success, let’s sit back and feast.
But if you don’t know exactly what went right, you may not be able to keep repeating it. Perhaps there was an element of luck involved you didn’t account for. Perhaps success is down to a particular salesperson and if that person leaves then you won’t have the same access to key clients.
Good leaders need to know these things. Because that’s what ensures your company continues to perform and improve. So next time you land a big deal or make a major sale, have a post-mortem and then make the changes needed to ensure it was no fluke, but will be repeatable.
2) Keep the pressure on
Leaders need to put themselves in situations that force decisions to be made. The best way to do this is to keep projecting forward and to set immovable targets and deadlines.
For instance, ask yourself ‘What are your sales or turnover targets for the next three years?’
From this you create your business plan, which should lay out in great detail how you will get there. Within this plan you set your milestones and markers to measure yourself against.
The moment you form this plan, there should be a clock ticking in your head. You need to use it to create the urgency that makes so many leaders perform well when they are in a crisis.
It’s tempting to approach a ‘positive’ deadline, such as increasing turnover, with less urgency than a ‘negative one’, such as making sure your bank balance doesn’t go in the red.
But the best leaders keep the pressure on in both situations, because it forces them to make strategic decisions.
3) Figure out how you would disrupt yourself
One fantastic exercise to help rid your organisation of complacency is to sit down with your team and imagine how a competitor could take down your business.
What could a rival do that would eat into your market share? What would they need to do to make a better product or produce a superior service? If you commit to this exercise with ruthless honesty, you will find areas where company has blind spots or is vulnerable.
This is a great way to force your organisation to take decisions that would otherwise be put off, while safeguarding your business model. Because if you can see it, you can be sure someone else will soon notice the same thing. Perhaps they already have.
Change from a position of strength
As counterintuitive as may feel to shake things up in times of success, it’s the best time to act. It’s human nature to relax when all seems well. The best leaders are constantly making hard decisions to future-proof their business and keep its value growing.
Standing still is the same as going backwards. Which is why everyday you should be choosing to make a choice.
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