Recently, my office received this email response, from a corporate Vice-President, to our sales call.
Thanks for following up.
As it stands right now, we are experiencing some pretty intense business pressure as the overall product category continues to be down.
With that going on, we’ve got to be somewhat conservative around what we pursue.
This Vice-president’s response typifies a predominant mentality among corporate leaders in this down economy. Organizations have the money. Employees certainly have the need for encouragement. What they often don’t have from their leaders, however, is Managerial Courage.
A lot has been written in an attempt to define the elusive attribute of Managerial Courage. Some describe it as being decisive. Others say it is acting with conviction. Still others claim it is being honest.
Most managers aspire to lead with all of these honorable qualities, particularly in good times. The ultimate form of Managerial Courage, however, only comes to light in darkness of tough times. True Managerial Courage is the ability to decisively press forward in when the outlook may be gray and murky.
Unfortunately, many leaders abandon their quest to develop these courageous qualities, at the first sight of trouble, instead opting to hunker down and play it safe. They don’t realize how they may be creating the very reality they fear.
The Vice-president, for example, sees that “the overall product category continues to be down”. He reacts in a number of potentially deleterious ways: confusion, regret, fear, etc. In order to help him cope with these unnerving emotions, he practices being conservative. Unbeknownst to the Vice-president his conservatism may be contributing to the problem.
Like gears in a clock mechanism, around and around the Vice-president’s perceptions, reactions, and practices spin: a vicious cycle where he literally creates his experience of the world based on the way he perceives it; in this case, the decrease in sales.
Employees need and expect their leaders to live up to their pay grade. Workers respect and trust leaders who know where they are going, make tough calls and forge ahead. Nevertheless, all too often, leaders like this Vice-president lose their nerve in tough times.
The lack of Managerial Courage commonly appears in the budgetary decisions a leader makes in tough times. Corporate leaders often cut training and development programs first. Such a move, however, is shortsighted because training and developing your people arms them the necessary tools critical for weathering tough times. Training reduces risks, turnover and the need for extensive supervision. Training increases innovation, productivity, morale and the ability to adapt to change. Without such tools, fear spreads throughout the organization, tanking morale and paving the way for competition to take the lead.
Continually developing your people seems like common sense, but in the words of Voltaire, "Common sense is not common practice”. Ironically, corporate leaders often invite me to address their employees when times are good, hoping that I can help employees sustain their growth. While developing your people is always a good idea. The best time to bring me in to your organization is when people are unnerved and need a message of resiliency and encouragement the most.
Indeed, these difficult days are the times that will make or break your organization.
Investing in your people when times are tough shows remarkable Managerial Courage.