Article previously featured at Forbes.
We all panic when there are rumors of a reshuffle, recession, reorganization, downsize, or a new company acquisition that no longer includes you. And it’s not just limited to employees. Stoic management also reacts to stress and succumbs to the plight of fight or flight.
Everyone — from interns to the CFO — wastes brain-time and risks a misstep, whether contemplating an exit or actively running for the door. It’s during a professional earthquake I get panicked calls, their world turned upside down. The threat of unemployment and need for safety is real. Just ask Maslow.
I hear their panic to land on more solid ground. The grass is always greener. But oftentimes our instincts fail us and we are prevented from diffusing our situation to make the best decision.
Too often, I advise talent to stop. Breathe. And breathe some more. Then I invite them to talk their situation through. The end result: Most talent in fight-or-flight mode ends up being able to work through the challenge and drive their company forward to a more successful situation, building their career for the better. They will have demonstrated resilience. For others, I suggest finding ways to sit tight and lead changes. Change in your current organization can present new opportunities, you just have to get comfortable being uncomfortable to forge new possibilities.
The recent exit of Yahoo’s SVP, Adam Cahan, demonstrates inevitable layoffs during times of acquisition. For others, organizational changes can create great new opportunities. It’s personal and it’s about evaluating your situation.
Here are five leadership skills to self-coach during times of inclement change.
Firm And Flexible
Remain firm but flexible. You have a vision of where the company is headed and must now see it through and successfully execute or you will lose credibility, momentum and effectiveness. At the same time, you need to remain flexible in order to adapt to the changes and obstacles that appear in your path while keeping your focus on the ultimate objective. There is room for flexibility and deviation, and fostering a strong team requires agility. Be aware of how the execution of the vision affects performance levels and then tweak as needed. You want to achieve a goal but don’t be obstinate either. Remain open to feedback and adaptation.
From talking to employees about their feelings to fostering an internal dialogue amongst colleagues and teams, communication is critical. Keep your hand on the pulse of what’s happening in the work environment every single day. This requires having your ear to the ground to get a handle on issues that may arise. Have your entire HR and leadership team work with employees to ensure retention of your best talent. Listening is your most valuable skill. You have to constantly take your department’s temperature and gauge where people are at that moment in time. Create an environment that fosters honesty and feedback or radical candor. It will save you and your team.
Check your attitude first and then the temperament of your department and team. Is it positive and productive overall? Or is morale weak and negative? In order to accomplish and achieve, the overall attitude needs to be positive. The mindset of the entire company will impact whether or not it is able to accomplish its goals. If there is a rumbling underneath the surface, it’s critical to address the problem and work toward creating a more positive atmosphere. Your objective is to motivate everyone around you. Keeping an upbeat, positive attitude will greatly impact the productivity of your team.
Create a clear chain of command and responsibilities. When a major turnover happens in an organization, confusion as to who is responsible for what can run rampant and frustrate everyone. Frustration leads to “the grass is greener” mentality. Focus the energy of your organization through delegating responsibilities. Don’t take on everything and micromanage. Instead, let the experts handle things. You hired the best, now get out of their way and let them do their job.
All of the above requires high levels of trust, which works both ways. You need to trust the people working for you and with you. Stress breeds mistrust and organizations can get into the danger zone. You have a team of people working for you. Trust them to do their job and create an atmosphere that supports honest communication. I suggest reading Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. Ask your team to read it simultaneously and use the app her company has created.
These soft skills require emotional intelligence and are critical in maneuvering through any major organizational change. To answer the question: Should I stay or should I go? What do you now think?
If you create the atmosphere described above, you’ve created the foundation for an organization that can really deliver its vision. That kind of turnaround is the success story your future employer will want to hear all about.