Today, My Tanks Were on Empty. 

Today, my tanks were almost on empty.  I didn’t have any more energy left to manage the daily, interim or long-term crises I have in front of me.  Just the acknowledgement of such, may create another crisis! I couldn’t decide what to do.  After all, I am responsible for family, friends, coworkers, partners, industry associates and customers.

You could even say I have a leadership crisis in the mix, if that’s not too self-important. Where do you turn when you are at the end of your rope and you’re last in line?

I’m not self-important.  The definition of self-important is “having or showing an exaggerated opinion of one’s own importance; pompously conceited or haughty.” If you believe I am that person, I have another crisis of which to contend. A time of crisis, is a time to look in the mirror. Make sure self importance doesn’t include writing the checks you can’t cash. It isn’t about the money, although that is a means to an end. What I mean by that is you need to look past words and see the person behind them. What does that person do and what has that person accomplished, virtually on their own. That’s a small business person, that’s an entrepreneur. That’s why I love this expression, Successful business people stand on ground that is “crumbling beneath their feet,” Joseph Schumpeter

Essentially those I interact with daily, I would imagine, would be more than a bit surprised if I went off the rails.  The problem is, I have all the responsibilities, all the failures, regardless of who within the organization has made the mistake(s). I have always been afraid I just didn’t have the will.  I have always been afraid I was to give in or give up. I just didn’t. No brag. Just fact.

I think, if I went off the rails, maybe then someone who depends on me would have to step up in a big way and fill these shoes. My biggest fear today? The question. “Who is ready?”

Here is some advice from John Baldoni, who is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. He is the author of nine books, including 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. See his archived blog for here. Baldoni’s advice has helped me.

Take a moment to figure out what’s going on. An executive I know experienced a major disruption in service to his company. He was the person in charge and he told me that at the first response meeting everyone started talking at once. The chatter was nervous response — not constructive — so he delegated responsibilities and then called for a subsequent meeting in an hour’s time. This also helped to impose order on a chaotic situation.

Act promptly, not hurriedly. A leader must provide direction and respond to the situation in a timely fashion. But acting hurriedly only makes people nervous. You can act with deliberateness as well as speed. Or as legendary coach John Wooden advised, “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

Manage expectations. When trouble strikes, people want it to be over right now — but seldom is this kind of quick resolution possible. It falls to the leader in charge to address the size and scope of the crisis. You don’t want to alarm people, yet do not be afraid to speak to the magnitude of the situation. Winston Churchill was a master at summing up challenges but offering a response at the same time. As he famously said when taking office in 1940, “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory; victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

Demonstrate control. When things are happening quickly, no one may have control, but a leader can assume control. That is, you do not control the disaster — be it man-made or natural — but you can control the response. A leader puts himself into the action and brings the people and resources to bear. Think of Red Adair, who made a name for himself putting out oil fires that no one else could. A raging blaze may seem uncontrollable but Adair knew could control the way it was extinguished.

Keep loose. Not only does this apply to personal demeanor — a leader can never afford to lose composure — it applies to the leader’s ability to adapt rapidly. A hallmark of a crisis is its ability to change quickly; your first response may not be your final response. In these situations, a leader cannot be wedded to a single strategy. She must continue to take in new information, listen carefully and consult with the frontline experts who know what’s happening.

As much as we like to see senior executives pitch in and help with the heavy lifting, there is a limit. A senior executive’s prime role is setting direction. If he or she is engaged too much in front line responsibility, then who is doing the vision thing? Some executives still enjoy doing that hands-on work; they like the rush of adrenaline that comes from direct action. Too bad. That is not their job any more.

Leaders have another important role during a crisis and that is to provide perspective. As Mike Useem has written in The Go Point, an insightful study of decision-making, effective leaders can often do more by standing back from the action.

It is why, as Useem notes, that the team leader in mountaineering expeditions often remains at base camp rather than hiking to the summit. That way, if trouble strikes, he can direct the response with the perspective that comes from seeing the mountain as a whole and the conditions that affect the summit team.

The measure of a leader is often tested during a crisis. And those leaders who can engage directly, but still maintain their sense of perspective, are the ones that will help the organization survive.

I hope I’m that person. At least I think so. If that make me self-important…

P.S. I wrote this in 2013 and decided it is still relevant, maybe even more so today! I guess I am at least capable of listening to others advice. Thanks Mr. Baldoni!



About Idea Capitalist
Family guy and entrepreneur. Small Business owner. NFIB Leadership Council member. Serial blogger.

2 Responses to Today, My Tanks Were on Empty. 

  1. tar714 says:

    Excellent article! As a small business owner, it does not matter the year this was written, it applies to small business each and every day your doors are open. Love this quote: “have all the responsibilities, all the failures, regardless of who within the organization has made the mistake(s). I have always been afraid I just didn’t have the will”.


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