Leaders Focus on Mission and Impact, Even in Tough Times

Some people think the U.S. is headed for an economic downturn, and I know some managers who are bracing for that potential storm.

Samir runs a boutique marketing firm that promises clean and consistent brand development and graphic design.

Ellyn manages a production facility. She ensures that products are produced with quality consistency, just-in-time delivery, and at the lowest possible cost.

Both Samir and Ellyn have a history of being great leaders; they have people who respect them, track records of good employee retention, and Ellyn’s boss thinks quite highly of her.

Ellyn is worried, however. She says things like, “Everyone looks at manufacturing as a place to cut the most costs,” and “I don’t know how I can keep people motivated when they’re worried about possible reduction in hours, or improvements, or keeping up the little perks. They’re going to catch on that their job is to maximize units at the lowest cost to our share-holders as possible.”

Samir is also concerned, yet he talks a different language by saying things like, “We might have to make some cuts, but I look at this situation as temporary,” and “What if we position ourselves as the agency who will work with our clients and vendors to get creative with lower budgets and realize that we’re all in this together?”

You might think Samir would be way more fun to work for, and you may be right, in these circumstances. Manufacturing is a different animal than a creative space, though; Ellyn is right that tangible goods are produced at the highest practical quality at the lowest possible price.

But Ellyn could learn something from Samir, and from her past experience: human beings who work in manufacturing can still find purpose and meaning in their work, even if times are tough. You see, she’s led through tough circumstances before, but stress is keeping her from talking about it like she used to. Regardless of the circumstances, however, the end-users of her facility’s product have better lives because of its high quality.

No matter the circumstances that swirl around us, it’s always wise to stay focused on mission and purpose. In fact, it’s even more important in times of uncertainty. I have a favorite quote from author James Autry:

First, [in tough times], [employees] still need to be able to find meaning in their work and to feel it is important.

Next, they need your honest appraisal about the real conditions of the economy, the market, and the possible impact on their jobs.

And finally, they need the reassurance of seeing you, the leader, remaining calm and and centered and focused in the midst of the crisis.

(While it’s okay to express your concern, people don’t need to have their own fears imposed on them. They don’t need an environment of increased stress and anxiety.)

~James Autry

Autry, James. (2001). The Servant Leader. New York, New York. Three Rivers Press.

So, Ellyn, if you’re reading this, please know these three things:

  1. Autry’s book is an inexpensive, quick, and important read. Worth your time.
  2. Remember that your work has meaning and purpose for many people, beyond holding costs down.
  3. Ellyn is not your real name.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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