I was taught long ago that in times like these, character isn’t built– it’s revealed. Sure, successfully managing through turbulent times will help you in the face of uncertainty in the future. But right now, your people see you as the barometer; the actual measure of the temperature of the company, and its ability to weather the storm.
In what many will argue is unprecedented turmoil, this is no time to build consensus. From the top of the organization, tough decisions have to be made, and quick, sometimes painful action plans must be put into place. What is your character revealing in the process? Is the pain shared fairly at all levels in the company? Will some of the pain affect you? Will you stand behind your decisions with conviction? Do your decisions carefully balance caution with opportunity? Can your people see that you have the long-term interest of the company first and foremost in your mind?
It’s been 10 years since it happened, but consider the character of Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, the pilot of the US Airways jet that was put down in the Hudson River. Sully was the last one off the plane, checking every seat to make sure the passengers and crew who were entrusted to his care were out safely. Never mind the skill of crash-landing a jet safely against the NYC skyline, but Sully demonstrated extraordinary courage, skill and selflessness in the process. It wasn’t about him. It was about the passengers, his aircraft and history in the making. Approached by passengers who want to thank him, Sully simply says, “You’re welcome.” That’s character revealed. We see it every day in first responders, uncommon heroes and everyday people who selflessly serve others.
The way you make your decisions reveals your character, but the way you implement them reveals even more. Your face, your posture, and the tone of your voice telegraph your soul, and your core convictions. Do people hear panic in your voice, or thoughtful, deliberate and intentional courage? Do you appear overcome by the challenge, or do you exude confidence that you were made to manage through times like these? Do you bark a command, or do you respectfully ask people to get in line with your direction? Your people need your intellect and business sense right now, but in addition, they want to see your raw honesty, humility, integrity and humanness in everything you do. They want you to be in it with them!
You didn’t get into the position you’re in without being a good manager, but the great ones know that in times like these– there’s even greater value in listening than there is in speaking. Undoubtedly there are some decisions you must make that are yours alone. You know that costs can (and must) be cut in the assembly line, facilities, engineering, or in the customer care center. You know that there are some things that are considered benefits in good times that are simply impractical in tough times. And you know that although things aren’t tough for your company right now, you must prepare for the possibility that the road ahead will twist and turn before the path is clear. But once you’ve determined these things, who better to help make them happen than the people who live in the weeds of your business every day? Listen. Cultivate ownership. Allow them the opportunity to be part of the solution, not simply the soldiers that carry out your orders.
As he conquered far-reaching nations, Alexander the Great earned the respect of his soldiers by fighting alongside them in every battle. General Patton’s men would die for him because they knew he would die for them. Dave Thomas, the college dropout who founded Wendy’s had the respect of his people because he had as much “apron time” as they did.
Am I restating the obvious here? To many of you, yes, I am. But for some of the rest of us, me included, I’m simply suggesting that we can all use some mirror time. Alone. Sitting in front of ourselves, eye to eye, asking, “How would I want to hear this news? How can I help everyone feel that they’re part of the solution, not the source of the problem? Should I risk myself to save others? What will my crew and passengers remember about courage and leadership as we put down this plane? How will I look to myself in front of this mirror a year or two from now? ”
Character is indeed revealed in times like these. What about you? What does your character reveal?