Dealing with the unexpected
October 12, 2004
Many people watched with awe as the recent barrage of hurricanes hit the Caribbean and southeastern United States. Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne caused destruction that totaled billions of dollars and, regrettably, took the lives of many people. We sympathize with all those who experienced Mother Nature's wrath and had their lives turned upside down.
As I watched the power of these hurricanes on television, I wondered how they must have altered the lives of thousands of people. What grand plans were temporarily or permanently altered because of these events of nature? It was apparent from the reports of those affected that the cost was huge, both in their private lives and in their businesses. I imagine that recovery will take months or, in some cases, years.
Not all hurricanes produce destructive winds and drenching rain. Hurricanes occur in many areas of life; marriage, with children, and in business. And, like nature's storms, they all have some degree of intensity. Some are category 1, and occasionally we experience the intensity of a category 5. In most cases, life's storms cause us to re-evaluate and readjust our thinking and direction. In all cases, it's our attitude that makes the difference in how we weather and overcome storms. Lou Holtz stated it this way: "Adversity is another way to measure the greatness of individuals. I never had a crisis that didn't make me stronger."
There is no better illustration of the power of life's storms than in the world of business. My guess is that everyone reading this article has a business hurricane story. No matter what how intense the crisis—category 1 or 5—it's not unusual to see the energy and morale of leaders and employees become low when business storms occur, particularly when the market is in a down cycle. I've coached and consulted organizations that were completely de-energized because of market conditions. Working in those companies was like working in a funeral home.
I've also worked with companies that were energized, motivated, and optimistic, even though they were experiencing storms in the marketplace. What was the difference? The primary difference was that the leaders in the energized companies maintained their own energy and optimism and motivated employees to do the same.
Energy is defined as an unlimited resource that drives the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of our life. We all have the responsibility to use that resource effectively. Personal and enterprise energy is like the fuel in your car. It doesn't care how it's used, it's simply a fuel. You can put your car in neutral, step on the accelerator, and waste a lot of gas. Or you can put your car in gear and take off. The decision is totally up to you.
In a company, energy is a bit more complex. How you use your energy will refuel or defuel everyone in the company. If you aren't energized and energizing your employees effectively, you will kill any possibility of optimism and motivation throughout the organization.
Employees are affected by the energy attitude of their leaders far more than by their words.
You can say all the right words, but if your energy and attitude reflect something different, employees will be affected by that. Nothing is more disheartening than to be told everything's OK by a leader who perpetually wears a long face and appears to have the weight of the world on his or her shoulders.
Two comments from clients illustrate opposing energy attitudes. A coaching client in a major industry said, "It's always darkest just before it goes completely black." Not a very positive attitude.
A more positive energy attitude was reflected in the comment from a CEO who understood his energy influence: "Things aren't bad, they're just different. We are going to adjust to the difference."
Keeping energy high and refueling others are imperative in business, especially during times when people are being asked to do more for less reward. A colleague stated it this way: "It seems we're at a point where we just 'suck it up' and keep on truckin' no matter how flat our tires or how little gas is in the tank." I agree in principle, we do have to keep on truckin'; however, while we're truckin', we need to be particularly sensitive to how we use personal and enterprise energy.
During difficult times it is critical not to waste energy on what appear to be negative circumstances. Focusing on the present circumstances can create a lot of fear, frustration, and energy drain. Although it may be difficult to do so in unfavorable times, you need to see what can be done differently. This was brought home to me clearly during one of my personal storms. A colleague asked how I was doing, and I said, "Fine, under the circumstances." His response was, "Well, what are you doing under there?" He was right—I was wasting a lot of energy focusing on the circumstances. Here are a few ways to keep energy high when you find yourself in a storm.
Focus on Positive Expectations. We get what we expect. As a leader, you must clarify your expectations and continue to do so every single day. Sometimes people have to think their way into a new way of behaving. There is power and energy in thinking clearly about success. Unclear thinking and foggy mental image are bummers when it comes to being optimistic and having high enterprise energy. I suggest you review your purpose and expectations for your business daily.
Maintain a Strong Belief System. Whatever you believe with strong emotion becomes your reality.
As a leader, you are not limited to what you think you can do, but by what you think you can't.
Self-limitation is not based on reality but on a negative belief system that drains enterprise energy.
Be Conscious of the Present. Living in the present with positive thoughts and actions will energize you to achieve results in the future. It's what you do today that determines tomorrow's achievements. The oldest book in the world says it this way: "Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your heart."
Persevere Daily. Leaders who succeed never stop trying. Leaders who stop trying never succeed. I like what BC Forbes said: "Diamonds are only lumps of coal that stuck to their jobs." An anonymous writer said it this way: "Nothing is less important than the score at half time." It's not over until it's over. Do something every day that adds energy to your life and to those who work with you.
Substitute Positive Thoughts for Negative Thoughts. Remember, energy doesn't care how it's used. When you find yourself using energy for negative thoughts, fear, or frustration, refocus your energy on positive thoughts. We use less energy thinking and behaving positively, and we feel a lot better.
Expect Positive Outcomes. I love this one. Circumstances turn out best for leaders who make the best of circumstances. Things don't always work out the way you want them to, and sometimes you have a sense of loss, but focusing on the solution rather that the circumstance creates a positive outcome.
Focus on Personal Worth. Don't beat yourself up. Others will take care of that. Thinking that you're a failure, you're too old, and you're not smart enough all are energy defuelers. Also, don't compare yourself to anyone else. When you try to be like someone other than who you are, you waste the person you truly are.
Surround Yourself with Positive People. Surround yourself with people who view the world and success in a positive way. Negative people are energy drainers. You wouldn't park your brand-new car next to one that has cardboard in the windows and dents all over it, would you? So don't park your life next to a person who has nothing to lose.
Be a Student of Positive Information. Read something daily that is energizing and encouraging. Thefabricator.com recently ran a series of articles on job burnout. These and other articles in the site's Article Archive provide excellent information to energize your employees and you.
I offer a free Energy Tip each week. They are short, concise, and encouraging. E-mail me and I'll put you on the distribution list.
Finally, here's a quote from one of the CEOs I work with: "Enterprise energy and the direction of that energy is the key to the success of the enterprise." What you spend your energy on will determine your direction and your success during life's storms.