Mark Rapier of The Rapier Group: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readNov 17, 2022


Keep Calm and Carry On — History tells us there will always be turbulent times. Perhaps none were more uncertain than the 1930s and 40s. When they were standing alone against Hitler, Great Britain had more reason to be afraid than anyone else. Winston Churchill, through his leadership, did not allow the country to succumb to fear. The most important role of a leader is to accept challenges, acknowledge people’s doubts, and focus on the future. A leader’s job is to turn adversity into opportunities and anxiety into hope.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Rapier.

Mr. Rapier is the Managing Director of The Rapier Group LLC. Leveraging the experience gained over 40 years working for global technology and managed services firm, he provides valuable perspectives to leaders, making him an essential and trusted guide. He works with C-suites, IT leadership, and business stakeholders to develop effective digital transformation strategies and IT operating models. Since founding The Rapier Group in 2020, he has served as interim CIO for a logistics services firm, taught multiple classes on M&A effectiveness, and performed an acquisition integration health check for a financial services firm. He published The Leader With A Thousand Faces, describing the journey we all experience.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I graduated with a Business Degree from The University of Texas at Austin. My emphasis was on labor relations. I started down the traditional, and somewhat linear path, in Human Resources. Through a series of fortunate breaks and good coaching, I was given several opportunities even though my experience did not match the job descriptions. From this, I learned to focus my career moves on interesting positions and where I could learn something new. Throughout my career, I have made multiple career pivots; some big, some small, and all intentional. That has led to a varied and exciting career. I have worked with C-Suites and business stakeholders to lead key strategic initiatives. My clients have revenues ranging from $300M to $150B in multiple industries, including automotive, financial services, insurance, life sciences, logistics, retail, utilities, and US Public sector.

In addition to working with diverse clients throughout my consulting career, I have directly led global teams with as many as 1,500 associates. My career has spanned more than 40 years. This experience has given me a unique perspective on the leadership journey we all share. While each journey is unique, they all share common elements. In my current role, I serve as a sherpa guide. My goal is to help people navigate their journey to leadership.

Working with ACP on a pro bono basis, I coach military service members who are transitioning to civilian careers. I help them map their military experience to the civilian world, focus their job search, and begin managing their professional careers.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Experience is the name we give our mistakes. Once I was on a multi-country trip to Europe. The last stop was London. It was late in the evening from Brussels, and I checked in to what I thought was my hotel. The hotel chain operated two hotels within a few blocks of each other. I was billed for the missed night at the wrong hotel. London is an expensive city, and the explanation on my expense report was challenging.

What I learned was to double-check the details.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There have been many people who helped me along the way. It is hard to choose. One of my earliest managers took the time to help me understand career planning and realize it was my responsibility. He taught me that the path to success did not follow organizational charts or job architecture hierarchies. Growth is the path to success, and growth is the result of stretching yourself to the point of being uncomfortable. Discomfort is when the most important learning happens.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

For many years Edmond Hillary was described as the first man to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The reality is that Sir Hillary was part of a team that numbered in the hundreds and that Tenzing Norgay reached the summit at the same time. No one is a success without the support of others. My goal is to be a sherpa guide, to help people plan for and achieve success.

I always focused on helping my clients achieve their goals when I worked for various consulting firms. This focus led to excellent financial performance and career growth for my teams. When the client’s objectives and ours could not be aligned, the results were always less than either of us needed. I followed the same principle that I do today. Helping clients achieve success was the path to our success.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

In 2008, I led a large team when the financial markets crashed. In our business, we knew our revenues would suffer as our clients responded to their economic hardships. I first tried to calm everyone down by reminding them that times are always uncertain. The difference was we saw the black swan but were still waiting to see the full ramifications. My father came of age during the Great Depression and was a Naval aviator in World War II. Those were uncertain times. My brothers and I came of age in the 60s and 70s, the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis, four assassinations, riots in major cities, and the Vietnam War. More uncertain times. We were entering into a new era of uncertain times but just as in the past, we will come through it in the end.

I took some immediate action to limit discretionary spending. I worked with each of the client teams to find ways to look for more efficiencies. We also developed strategies for renegotiating some contracts to help our clients manage cash flow without dropping our services entirely. (Several of our competitors started offering fire sale deals that sacrificed medium- and long-term profitability for immediate cash flow.) By engaging the team to work on the problem, everyone had something to focus on in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

As the magnitude became apparent, I was honest with my team. Without sharing restricted information, I made them aware that negative changes were on the horizon. I did not know when the corporate guidance would come but it would be sooner rather than later. I was clear that I would treat them with integrity and be honest with them. Over the prior years, I had built up a bank of trust that I used.

When things stabilized, our team’s revenues fell by 9%, and I had to make some hard decisions. Because of our early actions, our team was the best performing team in difficult times. My peers saw revenues and profitability fall by much larger percentages.

This played out over 9 to 12 months. My approach was to display a combination of calm and urgency while focusing on actions we could take rather than simply reacting. This combination held the team together, and when the recovery started, the team was in a position to take advantage of the new opportunities.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Giving up is not an option. You have to adapt, change directions and make difficult choices. As a leader, I will never forget that the quality of my work and the decisions I make directly impact the lives of my employees and their families. I also remember that the quality of the services my team delivers directly affects the careers of the people who put their trust in us. When you give up, you don’t just quit on yourself; you quit on everyone who depends on you.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

I am an avid reader. Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces is one of the books that resonates with me the most. I first read it in college. Mr. Campbell studied hero myths and fables from around the world and throughout history. Based on this research, he identified recurring patterns that he calls the Hero’s Journey. This is the model that all the stories follow. During an adventure, the hero faces and overcomes trials and challenges. In the end, they are transformed. From this new perspective, the next adventure can begin.

Over my career, I observed repeating patterns in leadership. As we move through our careers, we learn and grow our leadership skills. We apply them differently depending on the situation. We mentor others as they navigate their journeys. We never stop changing and evolving. I structured my book, The Leader With A Thousand Faces, on the hero’s journey.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?


All of the essential skills of leadership come together in storytelling. Everyone will see a challenge from their own perspective. Think of the three blind men and the elephant. The leader must, with empathy, help people see the true nature of the challenge. They must acknowledge the fears and put them into perspective. Without this shared understanding, each person will develop their own worst-case scenario.

With the challenge understood, a plan of action can be put forward. A well-positioned program enables leaders to turn fear into hope and challenges into opportunities.

Plans must evolve as new information is discovered. As plans change, leaders must amend their story, explain the difference, and reinforce the reasons for hope.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

The more uncertain the time, the more critical it is for leaders to be visible and remain engaged. The story needs to be retold and reinforced to focus on the action plan. The messages and plans need to evolve as the situation develops. To keep their teams engaged, leaders need to keep their teams looking forward to the opportunities that await them in the future.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Hard messages need to be delivered directly with empathy and politeness. Understand and be prepared to respond to the reactions you will receive. After you have responded to the initial reactions, begin discussing the next steps. Try not to discuss the reasons behind the message. The drivers for the decision are in the past, and the important thing is to move forward.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

By its very nature, planning is about predicting the future. Leaders ask questions of themselves and their capabilities and capacity. They look at existing and future customers to estimate demand for their goods and services. Leaders study the competition to see how they are trying to disrupt the market and grow business at their expense. These factors and others are considered when building the plans. Leaders use their judgment to make their plans and set their budgets. They calculate the risks and move forward.

To improve the quality of planning, I suggest building three alternatives. The first plan is best described as the probable plan. This is the plan that stretches the organization to grow and prosper. It is the plan you submit for approval. The second plan asks, “What would have to happen to triple or quadruple the probable growth projections.” The third plan asks, “What would have to happen to cause us to miss our projections by 25 to 50 percent?” Documenting the assumptions for all three helps leaders build realistic plans. If events that align with assumptions unfold, leaders are in a better position to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or mitigate the impact if bad things happen. I describe this as the Goldilocks method; your plans should not be too hot or too cold. They should be just right.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Never lose sight of your core objectives and values. Business plans should be designed to meet those objectives and demonstrate those values. It is easy for the focus to drift to quarterly financial performance to keep shareholders and investors happy. When short-term thinking takes on too much importance, it is easy to drift off course. The goal of a company is not to make money and be profitable. Earnings and profitability result from achieving objectives and serving customers well.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. Shoot First, Then Aim — When a crisis occurs, companies often react without targeting their actions. These quick actions feel good because something is being done. Taken without thought, they can have negative repercussions.
  2. Lose Sight of the Mission — Every organization has a strategy for long-term success. When times get tough, it is easy to make tactical decisions that compromise your ability to return to the plan when things calm down.
  3. Lose Sight of your Customers — When times are difficult for you, they are also difficult for your customers. Taking an internal focus can lead you to make decisions that prevent you from supporting your customers. When this happens, the difficulty increases exponentially.

Each of these common mistakes shares a common trait. When leaders panic, the vision becomes myopic, and their decisions become short-sighted. To avoid this trap, leaders must consider the longer term impacts of their short term decisions.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

The things it takes to lead during turbulent weather are the same things it takes to lead when the seas are calm.

Play Chess — The average chess player will plan one to three moves ahead and consider one or two opponent responses for a total of four to seven possible outcomes. Good players think four or five moves ahead and consider eight to twelve outcomes. Grandmasters see seven to ten moves into the future and imagine dozens of scenarios. Very few of us will ever be grandmaster-level leaders. What is surprising is how few leaders ever become more than just average. You will be well ahead of the competition if you can become good.

Look for Opportunity — In 2007, I worked with a manufacturing company that needed to modernize five plants across North America. Each plant was operating near capacity, so the plan was to take a portion of a plant at a time to upgrade the equipment. The goal was to finish retooling all five plants in six years. When the financial markets collapsed in 2008, the first reaction was to slow the modernization effort to preserve capital. Leadership took a different approach. They took advantage of decreased demand and reworked the timelines to shift capacity, close down, and retool an entire plant. The overall timeline went from six years to three. When customer demand recovered, they were able to grow their market share and improve profitability.

Grow Your Team — When times are very uncertain, it is tempting to gather the A-Team and develop the response plan. This is the time to include your high performers. The Army trains its soldiers well and prepares them for battle as best it can. But there is no substitute for combat experience. It is essential to take the opportunity to prepare future leaders for the next crisis.

Don’t Get Cocky — As leaders achieve success, they are given more authority and opportunities. With this success comes confidence. Too much confidence becomes arrogance. This is what happened to Peloton. They were steadily growing their unique platform for exercise equipment and were justifiably proud of their success. The pandemic accelerated their growth. Leadership was convinced that the strength of their business model would enable them to maintain high growth. To support the anticipated growth, they purchased manufacturing capacity. As the pandemic waned, demand fell. The financial weight of their acquisitions is a heavy burden, and Peloton’s future is murky.

Keep Calm and Carry On — History tells us there will always be turbulent times. Perhaps none were more uncertain than the 1930s and 40s. When they were standing alone against Hitler, Great Britain had more reason to be afraid than anyone else. Winston Churchill, through his leadership, did not allow the country to succumb to fear. The most important role of a leader is to accept challenges, acknowledge people’s doubts, and focus on the future. A leader’s job is to turn adversity into opportunities and anxiety into hope.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein

Whenever I encounter difficulties, I keep moving. I may change direction, I may slow down, but I never stop. Facing adversity in this way has created more opportunities than I could have imagined.

A quote from John Wayne complements this idea. “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

If you stop riding, you will never get anywhere.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this series of articles. People can follow me on LinkedIn. My bi-weekly newsletter, The Leaders Journey, is available on

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!



Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator