Only Connect! Leaders and Tough Times

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,

Mayor John Hieftje & his Festifools character by Phil Dokas on

Mayor John Hieftje & his Festifools character by Phil Dokas on

And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect…

–E.M. Forster, Howards End

Forster characters illustrate the tensions and challenge of making connections among different social classes in the period that preceded the First World War.  A simple tie-in is the anticipation of April and spring, while also dealing with a surprising late, heavy snow and tax time.  Some staff and their families are reporting lower, or

Late snow tulip, by Bill Merrill 4-6-09

Late snow tulip, by Bill Merrill 4-6-09

much lower income tax figures than last year.  Anxiety and fears will be with us for some time, along with, fortunately, the enduring stories of how people dealt with tough times in the past.

One positive story example is from Peter G. Holden, 92, (looks 62) who grew up in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression.  Mr. Holden was interviewed by the New York Times and is featured in a short video, The New Hard Times (Holden, others in a series of videos), as he talks with his daughter and granddaughter about how communities pull together during hard times, across racial and/or class lines.  “Times are tight,” was the common greeting.  The project also invites videos upload submissions for the New Hard Times. 

Along with the Peter Holden’s hopeful view from hard times of the past, there is the local flavor and the idea of being visibly “present” via a few photos of Ann Arbor’s Festifools events  from this past Sunday.  Below are strategies for leaders at all levels to help you consider how to be present and connected to your staff during hard times.  The first examples are from the “Inside Training” Business Intelligence report – thanks to Jan Katz at UM and author Bill Treasurer, management specialist and author of “Courage Goes to Work: How to Build Backbones, Boost Performance, and Get Results.”.

  • Be straight. “In good times and bad, workers want—and deserve—the truth. Avoid tiptoeing around tough issues and give it to them straight, no spinning or sugarcoating,” Treasurer emphasizes.
  • Be gutsy. “Fear can play to your base nature. …Stop talking to employees about what keeps you awake at night, and start acting on what gets you up in the morning—the results you can make happen together.”
  • Be hopeful. This isn’t the time for revealing your glass half-empty mentality, says Treasurer. “No downplaying the economy or giving false reassurances, but choose optimism over pessimism, encouragement over discouragement,” he recommends. …[Face] the challenges head-on with hope and determination.”

The full story is here.

To add to this, here are few excerpts from a Tom Peters’ theme blog –  Leading in Freaked-out Times:

  • Leaders give respect. … Care. Respect. Leaders care about connecting — because it moves mountains.”
  • Leaders love the mess. …” There’s no mess — and no creativity, no energy, no inspired leadership.”
  • The leader is rarely — possibly never? — the best performer. … Leaders get their kicks from orchestrating the work of others — not from doing it themselves.”
  • Leaders groove on ambiguity. …The next five years are going to be an economic roller-coaster ride. That means that business leaders are going to be challenged repeatedly not just to make fact-based decisions, but also to make some sense out of all of the conflicting and hard-to-detect signals that come through the fog and the noise. Leaders are the ones who can handle [lots] of ambiguity.”
  • Leaders wear their passion on their sleeve. …Leaders emote, they erupt, they flame, and they have boundless (nutty) enthusiasm. And why shouldn’t they? …If you do not love what you’re doing, …then why in the world are you doing what you’re doing? And why in the world would you expect anybody to follow you?”
  • Leaders know: Energy begets energy. Every successful company, every successful team, and every successful project runs on one thing: energy. It’s the leader’s job to be the energy source that others feed from… Benjamin Zander said it best: “The job of the leader is to be a ‘dispenser of enthusiasm.”

Last, but not least, are a couple examples from the April leadership carnival newsletter by Dan McCarthy:

  • Moments of truth. Every decision you make in tough times has an emotional impact that lasts far beyond the moment. Every one is a moment of truth [including] the way you treat people.  Layoffs are when [the organization] proves its mettle and its worth, demonstrating whether a company really cares about its people.” “What do you want to be remembered for?”   More in the specific post here.
  • Leadership with Survivors. The workers who remain to pick up the pieces…are often ignored after downsizing, to the detriment of the organization, and i4cp’s Reduction in Force survey has found that few companies have any strategies in place to help survivors.  Not preparing a plan for managing remaining staff can have dire consequences for an organization that’s probably already in trouble.  Strategies and suggestions are listed in the specific post here.

The full carnival blog post is here with thanks to Dan McCarthy.

Did one of these items strike up a drumbeat with you?  Drumline 4-5-2009 Festifools, Photo by Phil Dokas @ Have you noticed a particular leader behavior that is helpful in moving ahead with energy, hope, and renewed enthusiasm?   Is there leadership at any level  that is making a positive difference ?  Comments are encouraged!

Later in the novel, Howards End, we read:

“In these English farms, if anywhere, one might see life steadily and see it whole, group in one vision its transitoriness and its eternal youth, connect — connect without bitterness until all men are brothers.”
— Chapter 33 –E.M. Forster

Deb Nystrom, of Reveln Consulting blogs about innovation, leadership, emerging trends, social media, business strategy, news,higher education and fun stuff. You can access her various mini-blogs by clicking on any of the previous links, or sign-up on this site to receive her newsletter with top tools, findings and news mailed every two months. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time. Thanks for visiting and joining in the on-line mutual learning community. Comments enrich the conversation.

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One Response to “Only Connect! Leaders and Tough Times”

  1. seth says:

    This is a terrific post and compilation of some great thought leaders on leadership during times of upheaval.

    Having been involved in numerous large-scale RIFs, I can testify to the truth about the need for a comprehensive and compassionate plan, for those impacted and for the “survivor” group.


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