Leading In the Crisis - Kelley Eskridge

Kelley Eskridge, founder of Humans At Work, is on a mission to make managers better. She says: "Bad managers hurt people and business." No argument there. Her manifesto, where she expresses "what we believe good managing is, and why it matters more than anything in business," is well worth reading.

I am pleased to welcome Kelley to this series on Leading In the Crisis.

Fight Fear With Focus by Kelley Eskridge

These are hard and frightening times -- hard because of the financial crisis, frightening because so many of us feel powerless to do anything except watch the world slide away around us.

If this were simply a question of managing money troubles – cutting costs, revamping strategies, becoming more innovative – we’d know what to do without hesitation. But the real challenge we face today as leaders is helping people manage fear.

Fear can be a survival mechanism, but not this kind of fear. When people feel powerless, often we freeze mentally if not physically. We lose perspective on what our next steps should be because the risks are so great: what if we make the wrong choice? To counteract that, we may try to do everything, and fall into the trap of doing more instead of doing the right things.

Fear kills focus.

But here's the interesting flip side: focus helps us set fear aside, and gives us back a sense of control -- a sense that we have power to make things better. Focus helps us stay engaged rather than checking out, by harnessing the need to do something with a clear plan of the right things to do.

Here are some ways to help yourself and your team focus:

- First, stop and think. What are your team's current priorities? Don't dismiss this as a duh question. Think about it. Can you say clearly and concisely what the top 3 overall priorities are for your team right now, and how they contribute directly to increasing the company's chances for survival?

- Share these top 3 priorities with your team in a team meeting. Make sure everyone understands them and has a chance to give input.

- Ask each team member to stop and think about their daily job. Given the top 3 priorities for the team, what should their top 3 priorities be in their individual role?

- Then ask them to start thinking about daily top 3 priorities -- what are the 3 most important things I must do today to ensure success in my job and success for the team?

Sure, most of us have more than 3 things we need to get done – but if we can identify and conquer the top 3 every day, it doesn't take long to feel that we're more in control. And that only makes us more effective.

- Every morning, gather the team together for a mandatory 10-minute stand-up meeting. Announce your daily 3 priorities. Ask people to volunteer theirs. Solicit feedback. And ask if anyone needs help identifying their priorities for the day, making clear that your offer of help is real and supportive, not a "test" to see who isn't keeping up with the program.

- Finally, ask what resources or support team members need to accomplish their priorities for the day.

And if you have to spend the rest of your day making sure they get that support, then do it. Because leading means showing people a clear destination and helping them get there. We need to do that now more than ever.

[Copyright 2009 by Kelley Eskridge. All Rights Reserved]

Posted by Terrence Seamon, February 25, 2009


Jennifer said…
This is a great post. Focus is something I struggle with often, and I hadn't thought of it like this in relation to fear. Thanks.
barbara sanchez said…
Well said. If people are too scared to act and too scared to spend both effortt and money, the economy will never recover.
Terrence Seamon said…
Jennifer and Barbara,
Thanks for commenting. And welcome to my blog!
Focus is so important, but can also be easily lost when fear rises. In times like these, we need to stay focused so that we can ride out this storm.

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