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Real Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Fly into Trouble

In every crisis there’s an opportunity – and it’s often the very leaders who throw themselves into a sticky situation who emerge with a new way forward for the company.

David Abney | UPS

You see it all the time in sports: An underachieving team gets hot and goes on a winning streak, leaving its long-suffering fans to believe this could be the season it finally wins a championship. Attendance soars, as even the most casual fans suddenly want to share in the experience.

But just as soon as the team reverts to its losing ways, the mood changes. Fans hop off the bandwagon even faster than they got on – calling for the coach to be replaced and the players to be traded.

If you manage people long enough, you’ll see this same phenomenon in the workplace.

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Leaders in the Workplace 

When business is good, everyone wants to celebrate the experience.

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When business is good, everyone wants to celebrate the experience.

In these moments, the best thing managers can do is step back from the spotlight and let the team – the employees who followed them into the foxhole and did the hard work – soak up the glory.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.”

By sharing the credit, the wise leader knows it will be far easier to win team support for future endeavors.

Of course, every business has its ups and downs. And when times turn tough, I’m often reminded of those “bandwagon” fans in sports.

Some employees will distance themselves from a project when it looks like it’s losing support or destined to fail. They’re perfectly content to let the rest of the team find the solution.

These “bandwagon” employees may not think their managers notice what they’re doing, but we usually do. I can easily separate those who disappeared when times turned tough from the leaders who willingly dove in – at perceived risk to their careers – to fix the problem.

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But that’s the role of a true leader. I’d liken it to the Mighty Mouse cartoons I watched on TV as a kid.

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It’s best to keep an even keel but don’t be afraid to show your passion.

Mighty Mouse would fearlessly fly into a crisis – rescuing Pearl Pureheart from the evil Oil Can Harry – singing, “Here I am to save the day!”

The strongest leaders believe it’s their job to step forward during the tough times, lead by example and inspire the rest of the team to work together to find the solution.

The strongest leaders know that the tougher the situation becomes, the more important it is for them to set an example for their people – to be highly visible and to take ownership of both the problem and the solution.

If they hold themselves accountable, the other members of the team will see this and be accountable for their actions as well.

Truth be told, businesses sometimes learn more when times are tough than when everything is sailing smoothly.

In every crisis there’s an opportunity – and it’s often the very leaders who throw themselves into a sticky situation who emerge with a new way forward for the company.

As scholars have taught us, the things we fear most – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are often the greatest sources of creativity.

Throughout it all, how you carry yourself matters. It’s best to keep an even keel but, at the same time, don’t be afraid to show your passion.

Whether you’re leading a small group or an entire organization, employees are looking to you for stability, motivation and leadership.

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Real leaders don’t demand credit even if they help save the day.

They’ll learn from how you handle yourself in the midst of a crisis. They want to know that you are engaged before they commit.

And real leaders should show a little more humility than cartoon superheroes. They don’t demand credit, even if they do, in fact, help save the day.

They realize that more often than not, it takes a team to tackle challenges of any significance.

Employees won’t buy in to the strategy if they see their leader hogging the credit.

Conversely, they’ll definitely be reluctant to follow you in the future if they see you looking for a scapegoat to throw under the bus.

And when the good times return and the business is humming once again, leaders should step back and let others take the credit. For the best leaders, that’s the part they enjoy most. goldbrown2

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Visit David Abney's Linkedin profile page. David Abney is Chief Executive Officer of UPS.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.

2 Comments

  1. Janak Desai

    Love the way you were not had any fear of “peak” lead by you in 2014-15 in the US Led us to new and positive possibility of the real leaders inforcing “The Standards” Who is Joe ?

  2. Pingback: Reason, Reality and the Future of Trade | Longitudes

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