Our economic environment has certainly changed – and not for the better – since I wrote the article “From Manager to Leader” which appeared in PRSA’s The Public Relations Strategist.
In that article, I discussed nine action steps that effective leaders must employ:
1. Articulate the Values
2. Create a Vision
3. Build Trust
4. Provide Inspiration
5. Act Courageously
6. Share the Credit
7. Establish Empathy and Listen
8. Be Open and
9. Empower Your Followers
I’ve been thinking a lot about which of these attributes is the most important for leaders to employ to get our organizations through this challenging economic environment. I believe it’s #5: Act Courageously.
These are frightening times, for our staffs, our peers, our clients. They’re looking for someone to step up, blaze a trail, shine a light, and say “Follow me. Together, we can get through these woods, no matter how dark they appear.” In other words, it’s time to get in touch with your inner Lincoln, Captain Sully, Churchill… fill in hero of your choice.
Recently, I was speaking about this topic with Steve Cody, blogger and managing partner and co-founder of mid-sized PR firm Peppercom, and one of the bravest guys I know. (Here’s proof: As if running a firm in these challenging times isn’t enough, Steve regularly does stand-up comedy. He even did a bit at the end of a grueling day at PR News’ Digital PR Summit last October, in front of a group of exhausted PR top dogs. He’s either very brave or very crazy. I think he’s a little bit of both).
Late last year, Peppercom was hit with the “perfect storm” of one large account freezing its work—through no fault of the agency—and two accounts putting their accounts into review—all in the same week. As a result, they made the painful decision to lay off three percent of their staff. Talk about scary.
Although it was possible that Peppercom would have the incumbent’s advantage, Steve and business partner Ed Moed looked long and hard at the situation and made the brave decision to walk away from both reviews.
Instead, they and their leadership team dialed up the communication, increasing the frequency of staff meetings, where they were forthright about the agency’s situation… “the good, the bad & the ugly.” They reiterated how Peppercom had come through previous adversity—after the dotcom bust and 2001/2002 downturn—by increasing innovation. They held a training session on, of all things, stand-up comedy.
This not only enhanced team presentation skills, which would ultimately improve the agency’s win rate, but, as Steve says, “We knew that if people can laugh in the teeth of the storm, it rallies everyone.” More importantly, instead of pursuing two pitches in which the odds were stacked against them, they chose to spend time developing new communications “products,” based on the agency’s strengths, which could lead to new income streams. In addition, they put out feelers to their former clients’ competitors.
The result? The agency will soon launch one of the new products it developed as part of its agency’s innovation initiative. Others will follow. And they’ve opened an active dialogue with their former clients’ competitors.
In addition, in early 2009, the agency won a huge piece of business from a top national brand name. Did the agency’s renewed focus on innovation, enhanced emphasis on presentation, and overall encouragement of a “We can get through anything” mentality play a role in the win? The evidence is only anecdotal, but my vote’s a resounding “yes.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that Peppercom will come out of this economic malaise all the stronger, because of its leaders’ courageous approach…and their ability to laugh and get others on their team to do the same.
It’s easy – perhaps even understandable – to feel fearful nowadays. But both fear and courage are self-fulfilling prophesies.
My advice? Take a deep look within: Are you functioning with courage at your core? Now might be a good time to re-read the post on “You…Meet You…Knowing Yourself.” And if you don’t like what you see, walk through your fear and make the necessary changes now.
Equally important, consider what you’re showing to your organization via your vocabulary, your tone, your body language and your overall persona. In frightening times like these, your teams are observing you with greater intensity, their radar on high-alert for any sign of fear, but desperately seeking bravery. What signal are you sending?
Remember, you don’t have to wait till you feel courageous to emanate a brave aura to those around you. Not to oversimplify the point, but Oscar Hammerstein had a wise message for leaders in his advice to “whistle a happy tune” when we’re most afraid.
At the worst times, were Lincoln, Churchill or FDR scared? Possibly. Did they ever let on? Not once.
Let them inspire you. Remember, it took courage to become the leader you are today. And courage will get you through tomorrow.
Ken Jacobs, Principal, Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC
Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC helps PR agencies and corporate communications departments improve staff performance, retention, motivation and attraction via its consulting, training, and coaching programs. The company also helps PR agencies achieve their business growth goals. Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.