Unfortunately, when everything hits the fan, it won’t be at a time and place of your choosing, and most likely, it won’t be just one issue.
When you least expect it and when everything seems to be going OK for the first time in awhile, a severe lightning strike may occur, seemingly out of nowhere, even when the sun is shining brightly. Worse yet is that first bolt may be followed by multiple booms, bangs and claps in rapid succession.
It may start with a phone call informing you that the unspeakable has occurred. One of your top people encountered a personal problem that will shed a bad light on your company, or you get a FedEx letter from one of your biggest customers stating: “It’s been fun while it lasted; have a nice life. Sayonara.” As a wave of nausea sweeps over you, your chief accounting lieutenant barges into your office, holding your auditors’ notice and stammering, “earnings restatement.”
Trouble comes in many sizes and shapes, and as the boss, you must always be prepared to provide direction. While any one problem could be monumental, two or more are almost debilitating. What can you do; what must you do?
First, figuratively and literally take three deep breaths and count to 10. Pick up a legal pad and write out the key issues, crystallizing options and setting priorities of who on your team does what. Also write out some ideas of how to get started. Step two, clear your calendar and focus.
The trick in attacking multiple major problems simultaneously is to compartmentalize each of them, quickly determining the downside risks and coming up with temporary fixes to stop any bleeding, followed by long-term solutions. Let’s say another crisis hits when you receive a notice that your largest plant has become the target of a unionization drive. You quickly recognize that if this effort is successful, then your other facilities run the risk of a similar fate. The economic consequences could be enormous, and as equally disturbing is the fact that fighting this will be incredibly time-consuming, costly and will surely divert the attention of management away from sales and earnings goals.
Rather than bemoan your current state of affairs, gather your team together, contact your attorneys and find out what precipitated this situation. Was there an underlying morale problem in the plant, or did the union simply choose your company because it was an attractive target? Don’t always expect the worse, but plan for it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find out that it was a simple misstep by a lower-level supervisor that antagonized a very small group of otherwise well-meaning employees, which can be more easily fixed.
If the earnings restatement is the biggest threat, then most likely you will take charge of the accounting issues and have your vice president of human resources tackle the union problem. Time can be your biggest enemy or your greatest ally. If you procrastinate and don’t swing into action, the situations will simply proliferate. If, however, you jump in with both feet immediately, you may be able to stem the tide in your favor much more quickly. One thing is for sure: The good fairy won’t solve these problems and your only choice is to take charge.
Of course, you’ll have more than a few restless nights; your calendar will become an instant nightmare as you deal with these problems du jour. Nevertheless, at least, you’ll have started the compartmentalizing issue process.
A few words of caution: Certainly delegate aspects of the problems to your best and brightest but also make sure you’re constantly kept in the loop. An effective leader is much akin to being a juggler and having the skills to keep all of the balls in the air simultaneously.
One consolation is that if being the boss was so easy, then everyone would do it. In fact, being a good leader takes a keen mind, often an incredible sense of urgency and a strong stomach.
Troubles come with the territory. However, there is one major consolation: When you’re at the top, the height can be a bit frightening at times, but the view is certainly spectacular.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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