What do you do when times are hard?

“When numbers are up. No one asks questions”

Are you familiar with that saying? We all know a version of it and can relate to the notion. This is a dangerous mindset to have, companies who don’t prepare for hard times risk slipping into “denial,” and employees who become complacent risk losing their ability to respond properly. This could lead to knee jerk reactions, panic and usually poor decisions. Tough times will inevitably come and companies who become complacent may lack agility and utilize resources quickly to turn things around. This could easily set off a chain reaction which eventually leads to the demise of the company

It starts with being able to recognize a situation and respond accordingly.

Corporate reality is always changing. It’s crucial that employees have the tools and ability to respond properly to change. For me, it all starts with responsibility. Responsibility is made up of “response” and “ability,” a responsible person is able to respond accordingly to a complex situation and quickly adapt to the new reality by implementing the right solutions in the right places. That is the essence of leadership.

So how do we become more responsible? By realizing that it’s up to us to constantly raise the bar, regardless of growth. We should always challenge the way we do things, question the way we operate and try to find more effective and efficient ways of working. However, when operations are set on autopilot we could end up too comfortable and this is the first sign that we’ve slipped into a dangerous mindset of “coasting.” It doesn’t mean we need to fix what works, but it does mean that we need to understand the “why” as much as the “how” we do things, and constantly verify that things are up to par.

Be a leader

To be responsible, you have to be a leader. In today’s corporate atmosphere everyone says the usual buzzwords: delegation, work-life balance, embracing failure and empathetic leadership. Most companies boast about their progressive ideas and practices on leadership. Although I believe most leadership models hold within them great potential, they are mostly concentrating on the finger and not on the moon.

“Don’t think. feel. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.” — Bruce Lee

Most leadership models point on what leadership looks like without touching on what it means to be a leader. It’s not something you can simply put your finger on, it has to be the embodiment of who we are, even when no one is around.

The most common misconception of leadership is that leaders need to be charismatic and in positions of power, manage people or talk in front of crowds, but that again is concentrating on the finger and not seeing the moon.

So, how do we know where to focus? What to do? First, we need to understand why we do things. Asking why lets us know if we focus on the right things. If there are certain things we do without knowing why than perhaps we shouldn’t be doing them. This also allows us to test how well we know our SH*T, and bring any personal biases we might have on our performance to light.

We must be performance-driven and objective. Don’t put your self-interest before the outcomes needed for a project to be successful. Especially when times are hard and the margin for error grows smaller. Sometimes it means we need to do things we don’t like or deem “beneath us.” Whatever our motivation may be, we should always remember that the outcomes are more important than how we perceive the job.

Many tasks are boring, simple and/or repetitive. If we understand why these tasks are important and how they contribute to the greater good of the project, we will start seeing the bigger picture. This often leads to improved processes.

Embrace the grind. There are no shortcuts. When we focus solely on outcomes and how to raise the bar, we build a good foundation for dealing with adversity and change. And avoid knee jerk reactions. This is, in general, the recipe for leadership and success.

Be biased to action

When times are hard, it’s important to keep the focus on outcomes and shift attention to what matters most, quick solutions. This is easier said than done, especially in an organization with many individuals. But if we always focus on outcomes and ignore distractions we will succeed.

This is why it’s so crucial to have a very clear view of “why” and “what” we do. And to be able to put this into perspective and see the bigger picture. Every action has consequences and we have to be ready for all of them when making a decision.

So…. How do you know what to focus on? Easy. Determine what not to focus on first. We have “blockers,” “dependencies” and “overheads” which usually slow things down. A good trick would be to focus on what you can control and avoid focusing on what you can’t.

When times are hard, people tend to fall back to their insecurities and bad habits. The longer things remain the worse it gets. Individuals react differently to change. A great way to deal with this is to constantly remind ourselves of why we do what we do and how we can do it better.

Don’t get emotional

In tough situations, we tend to react emotionally and although this is completely natural, it’s vital to keep feelings in check. Yes, processing emotions is important but there’s a big difference between processing emotions and acting on them, it usually ends badly. Think about your team. If they see you angry, stressed and panicking, what would they do? act? feel?

Think about the impact it has on others, yourself and the outcomes you create. Does stress or panic help you become better, are those emotions even needed? Responsibility for our actions means taking responsibility for our emotions as well.

Override business as usual

Most organizations fail to recognize the signs that hard times are approaching. Once there’s a need for a change you’ll have to adjust quickly and across the organization to generate wins and deal with “fires” and “noise.” This means you’ll need to develop a sense of urgency and a burning platform*. The key to a successful change is in the “why,” why do we need to change, what are the key drivers and most importantly what will happen if we won’t change? What is the price of the status quo?

More on Burning platform: https://www.managementcentre.co.uk/create-a-burning-platform/

Hard times bring out the best in us

When things get tough, your character is being put to the test. It’s a great opportunity to manifest your strengths and overcome your weaknesses — to give all you got, and even though at times it might feel like a lost battle. The only way you can lose is if you won’t fight one more round. But this is not the time to throw in the towel. Going toe to toe with adversity has huge benefits. This is what success is made of.

Remember: You become a champion by fighting one more round. When things are tough, you fight one more round” — James J. Corbet

Keep fighting! Always.

Loved this article?
Check out the kick ass material from our other teams:

R&D Department: https://medium.com/catena-media-rnd
Design: https://medium.com/catena-media-design

Some notable articles from our teams:

Open Sourcing: https://medium.com/catena-media-rnd/open-sourcing-dtective-8998c1317aa9

Innovation and culture:https://medium.com/catena-media-rnd/fuelled-by-innovation-elevated-by-culture-dd21083031e7

Servant leadership: https://medium.com/catena-media-rnd/how-can-i-help-servant-leadership-as-a-software-development-manager-d7cefa707f49

My top sources of inspiration:

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization — Peter Senge

Leaders Eats last — Simon Sinek

Daily Stoic — Ryan Holiday

Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual — Jocko Willink



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