Lessons from the Trenches: Leading on a Rollercoaster

Posted November 11, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Merv Hillier, CEO of the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario, Andrea Garson, VP of HR, Workopolis and Jay Woo, COO of the CAA South Central Ontario, joined an enthusiastic group of Executive Roundtable members yesterday to discuss how leaders can ride the ups and downs of business success.  Jay, Merv and Andrea shared their lessons on how to lead when times are tough and when times are booming.  Here are a few of the conversation highlights:

  1. Don’t be complacent… when times are good, it’s easy to get complacent.  Look for projects and areas that can be improved.  Cause strategic disruption in other areas to make sure that you’re not overlooking new opportunities.
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate… in difficult times, it’s crucial to create a clear vision/focus and direction for the team.
  3. Expect change… when you expect change, you can plan for it and you will be prepared to react when times shift.  It pays for leaders to be a little bit paranoid.
  4. Know your values… as an individual and as a company.  It’s easier to stick to decisions when you’re clear on your own core values.  As an organization, clearly defining your values and drilling them down through the organization (from hiring, to firing to bonuses, etc) creates an engaged culture that can ride out the rough times.
  5. Don’t go it alone… reach out for support through peer groups, coaches and other experts who can help you build your personal resilience and support you in your leadership.
  6. Listen to your employees… the further up the leadership ladder you go, the easier it is to get disconnected from the day-to-day realities.  Create frequent opportunities to interact with your team.
  7. Keep it in perspective… most pressure we place on ourselves in self-administered.  In a work crisis, think about what’s really important and remember, 90% of what you worry about won’t happen anyway.
  8. Stay humble and never stop learning… it’s easy to start believing your own leadership hype when things are going well.  As leaders, it’s important to keep your feet firmly on the ground or risk finding yourself left out to try by your team when you hit a dip in the business cycle.  No one likes working for a “spotlight” leader.  Be a floodlight and share the successes.

Probably the two biggest themes that I took from the conversation were the ideas of personal resilience and not to be complacent.  I think one of the best ways to build your resilience as a leader is to take risks.  Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone into new situations helps you build that muscle.  And, it’s important to let your team build that muscle too.  And, enjoying success when it comes along is important, but don’t get too high.  Change is inevitable.

On December 8th, we’ll be meeting with Christine Magee of Sleep Country Canada to talk about her leadership lessons from close to two decades of building Canada’s best known mattress retailer.  Click here to register for that session (12 seats only).  Hope to see you then.

Happy leading!


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