The real challenge to any business leader doesn’t appear when things are going well, but rather when things turn ugly. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you the leader loses control, blames others, or even works excessive long hours to cover their uncertainty of what / how to tackle things.  Unfortunately, these are things my clients have struggled with in the past and can be a major road block.

Richard Lindenmuth, an experienced interim CEO who has turned several businesses around, offers some advice in “The Outside the Box Executive.” He argues that strategic empathy, sincerely focusing on the individual with the big picture also in mind, is critical.

Strategic Empathy

  1. Expect anxiety on the team and deal with it directly. Anxiety is a very natural reaction to high-stress situations, and the foolish manager will expect everyone to deal with things in a calm and collected manner all the time. The manager must act as a mediator sometimes and be the voice of reason, but still let others go outside and vent steam. Acting quickly is key here so things don’t get out of control.
  2. Focus on team members who will say it like it is. Many investment firms have weekly meetings to discuss and challenge each other. Without this, you can fall into group-think, a syndrome where no one expresses their opinion due to social pressure. I have a colleague who works at a Utah private equity firm, who describes these meetings as critical to the success of even individual progression within the firm. Employees are expected to challenge others–to push for better outcomes. They are encouraged to call a situation how they see it.
  3. Direct contact is always best. People don’t respond well to indirect, obtuse, or infrequent contact, especially when the stakes are high or it’s a close relationship. Be direct and to the point, and deliver difficult messages in person. Another source of conflict is only delivering a message once and expecting much to change. Frequent, direct contact is best.
  4. Fix problems immediately. Quick, decisive action inspires confidence in people. Employees’ perception of your leadership and trustworthiness is directly related to your word/action alignment and behavior integrity. Clear expectations make it easier for people to follow you. If everyone is fixing problems with confidence, the business will prosper.
  5. Remember the 80% rule. Usually, 80% of ideas are just not usable, but it’s the only way to get to the 20% that are usable. This means that any attempt, intentional or otherwise, to stifle ideas is a bad idea. Invite ideas but make it clear that all of them may not be implemented.

Often the perspective of a third-party service can be extremely helpful in turnaround or other high-stakes situations. I’ve seen so many business leaders who get too engulfed in the details and benefit from an outside help to gain perspective. Consider how one of our experienced CFO’s may be able to assist your business.