When the Sh*t Hits the Fan

Feb 22, 2018


Work can be fun. It can also be, well…work. Things can happen every day that interfere with accomplishing your goals. Some days feel like a boxing match where you keep getting punched with problems and don’t have time to recover in between.

Every once in a while, rather than just sparring, something happens that feels like it could be a knock-out punch. Your biggest customer moves to another provider. You lose a big grant. Your celebrity spokesperson is arrested. Someone forgot to apply for approval from a government agency. Your IT system got hacked and your customer information gets stolen.  It could be anything.

But whatever it is, it is definitely bad news, and could have a crippling effect on the company, or your team, or could shut your doors.

What do you do?

This is when leaders get tested. This is when character gets tested.  When all the articles about leadership, and all the promotions, and all the talk gets very real.  Do you get scared? Yes. But it is what you do next that matters.

Do you go home? Do you do nothing? Do you blame circumstances and other people for the situation? Do you shut the door and hope it goes away?  Maybe. Do those actions resolve anything? No.

Here is what leaders do:

  • You get all the information that is available about the situation.

  • You pull together your people and outline what is known.

  • Then you and your team start making a plan about how to recover the situation.

  • You are transparent with your employees—don’t leave them guessing and worrying.

  • Stay calm and get people productively busy.

  • Meet often to review progress.

  • Celebrate progress and problem solve issues.

No blaming. No shaming. And no dithering. You and your team know the situation, and there isn’t a right answer about what to do—taking positive action will move you in a positive direction.

The important thing to know is to be honest, accept responsibility for progress. Report to those to whom you report. No keeping secrets about the situation.

When (and if) the situation gets better, be sure to review the situation and figure out how it happened, and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

How you, as a leader, respond to the hard punches of work deeply impacts how your team will trust you in the future. This is the true hard part of leadership, but it is where you get tested and when you grow together as a team, and when you grow as a person.