Where to take a stance in during tough times

We live in tough times: volatile markets; European nations threatening bankruptcy and global financial meltdown; persistent gridlock in our own politics; an Occupy movement that has mobilized thousands way beyond Wall Street; extreme weather. And on top of that we have the challenges and crises of our own workplaces. Where can we stand in these tough times? As leaders, others depend on our clarity, focus, confidence and direction. But it is so easy, even for the most focused leaders, to get caught up in the moment, to react, and even feel out of control to change anything, when we know we must change almost everything to stay ahead of the competition.

Where do we stand to meet these tough times? The adage to address only those things you can control is helpful, but the complexity and volatility of what we’re up against is daunting. What got us here as leaders will clearly not get us there. We need a deeper way of addressing this new reality, so that we can stand tall like an oak tree, able to take the impact of difficult weather, and sway, not fall over. Here are 3 principles and practices that may be helpful in finding our own place to stand.

Principle 1: Leadership Comes From the Inside Out

The ability to lead with clarity and in the face of volatility comes from the inner work we have done — our personal vision, mission and values; our leadership style and shadow side; knowing what truly matters in our own lives and in our work with others. A key practice to keep our balance is reflection — having a regular time daily or weekly to stop, reflect, and learn. If we can measure our growth by understanding where we are relative to our purpose, mission, and values, we will continue to lead with clarity and focus.

Principle 2: Interdependence

We live in an interdependent world. Clearly the recent Greek and Italian dramas around their national debt and potential default has helped us all understand that what happens there happens here. We are all connected and need to understand the impact of that interdependence on how we lead. A key practice to keep our balance in this area is to recognize we cannot do it all ourselves. We need to engage others, from the top to the bottom of our organizations so that they understand where we’re headed and can help us all get there.

Principle 3: Ownership

Many people in our workplaces today feel left out and out of control, even though they are the key to success. People take care of what they own. If they own the work practices and processes in their workplace, they will not only take care of them, they will excel. Energy will go up. Quality will go up. Morale will go up. If we create a workplace fit for the human spirit, we will not only get their heads and hands engaged, we will get their hearts. Key practices in this area include engaging the workforce in an alignment process around vision, mission, values, and strategy. Creating a two way communication system so there is listening and dialogue. Giving teams and groups full responsibility and ownership of work processes so there is accountability and productivity.

We live in tough times. We could say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But this is not one time deal. This is our future, from now own. In tough times, true leadership comes from within, from our connectedness with others, and our recognition that ownership drives commitment.

Dr. Edward Marshall is a Senior Partner for Organizational Leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. He can be reached at marshalle@ccl.org, or 919.265.9616.