Welcome to the New Normal: Leading in Turbulence

Posted June 28, 2013 in Latest News & Insights, Leadership

My first job was at the Ottawa Citizen.  I arrived in May and was hired as a summer student.  My colleagues said “don’t worry… it gets really quiet here in the summer.”  Um… not so much.  That year, there was a new upstart (The Ottawa Sun) that was eating the Citizen’s lunch; newsprint prices were soaring and management starting making unpopular cuts.  Summer was anything but quiet…and it never did resume to “normal”.  It’s no different today.  Industries are in flux, global uncertainty is breeding fear and technology is creating waves that we can’t even see coming until they’re crashing down on us.  Welcome to the new normal.  We asked three senior leaders to share their strategies on how to lead in constant turbulence.  Bill Neill (formerly of PostMedia), Janet Yale (The Arthritis Society) and Silvio Stroescu (ING Direct) all had this to say:


On Helping to Keep People Motivated:

  • Process and communication planning plays a key role in keeping people engaged during times of uncertainty. Always have a Plan B and C and keep the communication high.
  • Be as inclusive as you can be and be as transparent as possible. Engage your teams for input on the issues… don’t try to take it all on yourself.
  • Motivate your team by creating alignment and focus. Do as much as you can to shield them from unnecessary “noise” and distractions.

On Keeping Yourself Motivated:

  • Make sure you’re focussing on self-care. People pick up on your vibe, so it’s critical that you find avenues to help you keep things in perspective. A mentor, coach or sounding board helps. Team sports, volunteering to help less fortunate… whatever works to help you keep things in balance. Most of us aren’t saving lives.
  • Stay visible… as much as you may like to lock yourself up in your office, take the time to walk the floor and engage with your teams.
  • Don’t underestimate yourself as a leader. You have more ability to influence than you think, so don’t fall into the trap of feeling like a victim.

On communicating bad news:

  • Communicate early. If you have to share the news that jobs will be lost, it’s better to do it earlier than later. The majority of people are not going to leave your company (usually the big fear). Also, this type of open transparency helps build trust.
  • Not being open is incredibly destructive and demoralizing. If you don’t let people know what’s going on, they will fill in the blanks…which can be a lot worse.

On dealing with pressure:

  • Look for the low hanging fruit. Look at the quick wins.
  • As the middle manager, it is your job to be the buffer between the new edict du jour. When new edicts du jour come down the pipe, decide on the priorities, so that the team can stay focused on delivering the results. Have the courage and conviction to run interference when you need to.

On the importance of trust:

  • Always aim to build an internal culture of trust. Talk openly and disagree openly and respectfully. It’s easier to lead in turbulent times when there is a foundation of honesty, transparency and truth in place.
  • You are responsible for communicating the message. Don’t bring someone on to do that for you. If you do, you are not the right person to do this job.

On reframing the situation:

  • Turbulent times can lead to new opportunities. Leverage the change to try new things.
  • When everything’s going wrong, what’s the risk in trying something new? Don’t be afraid of failure.

Parting words of wisdom:

Silvio: There is no better test for a leader than to lead through turbulent times.

Janet: Change is inevitable. Embrace change.

Bill: You have to be an advocate, a standard bearer if you want change to happen.


Thank you to our three wonderful panelists who shared with complete candor their wisdom and experiences and our members who brought great questions and insights.  Our PowerRoundtables are now on hiatus until the Fall, but check out our e-Roundtable line-up to get you through the hot summer months.



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