Leading During Difficult Times

Some firms are doing really well. Some firms are about ready to close up shop. But the vast majority are just in the ugly middle: not terrible, not great, and just wondering when things will get unclogged and exciting again. This is for you in that vast middle.

  • Leadership shines when short-term concerns are balanced with long-term values, but tougher times will shove you toward the former and you'll want to resist that. I don't think it's true that your first priority should be to survive; instead, I think it's to be able to live with yourself.
  • If you're kicking yourself because you don't have a marketing plan, capture that fear in a bottle and never let go of it until you spin one up. It should be sustainable, and it should fit your personality. If you can figure out how to drive a steady stream of business your way, you can figure everything else out.
  • You signed up for this role, and that comes with highs and lows. Don't expect your team to put a shoulder to the plow just like you will. Yeah, they care, but not as much and they never will. Stay lonely with your team and seek solace from other entrepreneurs whose lives are a closer overlap with yours.
  • Welcome the financial pressure as a strong, unignorable signal. A twisted ankle hurts like heck because it wants you to quit walking on it like normal, and the signal of financial pressure is telling you to not ignore it. The easiest way to ignore financial pressure is debt, but that's just pushing it forward into the future and digging a bigger hole.
  • If you need to adjust your staff count, do it all at once or it'll seem like you're cutting someone's leg off one inch at a time. If you need a psychological trick, try this: "Should I do it now and give them one month of severance...or later, with no severance?" The answer to that is easy, and it helps frame the challenge.
  • If your people are as good as you claim, they'll bounce back. Besides, job changes coincide with some of the best life changes (like when you started this firm). That's not to make light of the pain, but these tougher times are just a part of life.
  • This isn't the time to obsess about profit. In fact, no profit is fine, at least over shorter periods of time. Instead, focus on your cash cushion. Make sure you're not drawing it down to a point where you start to do stupid things by overreacting. Cash = time = options.
  • Stay in close touch with your team. They are watching you way more carefully than normal. You'll serve them best, not with optimism, but with hopefulness, decisive action, and empathy. That last part is harder to pull off when you're (naturally) preoccupied with formulating the right plan.

Carry on with gratitude. Regardless of your specific situation, you probably have a lot to be grateful for.

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