With the right mindset, business leaders can transform economic crisis
into a re-awakening of the American Spirit
By Jayne Gardner, Ph.D.
Doubt. Fear. Crisis.
As the world slogs through the economic downturn, American workers are losing faith. They no longer trust themselves, their companies, or even their country’s economic system.
Older employees struggle with a new financial reality since many have lost half of their retirement funds. Freshly minted college graduates face poor job prospects at a time they should be celebrating their new degrees and looking to the future with enthusiasm. And entrepreneurs flounder in uncertainty, wondering whether to continue building their businesses or simply give up.
Strong business leaders can break this cycle. By understanding how crisis affects us all, and by following a series of specific steps, business leaders can shore up the American Spirit and put their organizations back on sure footing.
Emotions are contagious. When the light of hope has been extinguished in others, it is easy to get trapped in a mood of doom and gloom. Before long, you are walking in darkness, fear and doubt. But there is hope. Strengthening the positive qualities inside of us is the way out of crisis. As soon as we restore our trust in ourselves and each other, the money will flow once more.
The lost hope of layoff survivors
Lost hope and waning confidence do not bode well for the future of business. More than ever, U.S. companies need strong leaders. Yet the current raft of layoffs makes it even more difficult for companies to develop their workforces, boost their fiscal health, and improve their competitive positions in the marketplace.
Why? The answer lies in data collected after the recession of the early 1990s. Organizational psychologists conducted studies of large corporations that laid off employees. They confirmed that the remaining workforce was less engaged, less productive, and absent more often than before.
Obviously, these behaviors and attitude are a liability for individual employees, as well as their companies. Those who wish to position for growth must first understand how the business world got to this place.
Accountability – for everyone
It is easy to find villains in the current economic crisis. Swindlers like Bernie Madoff and large investment houses with shady business practices could easily be blamed for the mess.
But it is important for each of us to determine where we fit in the collective pileup of bad financial decisions. The primary elements of the crisis are obvious: deep debt, overextended credit, over-spending, and inappropriate use of funds. On top of that, throw a tendency to take life – and its comforts – for granted. No matter where you fall in the spectrum of excess, there are lessons to be learned:
- many of us have placed a higher importance on money than people
- Americans have a growing, passive depending on the government to save us, which is destructive, magical thinking
Unfortunately, when examining these problems, most people tend to freeze up in fear. They don’t want to look at the dark side of our nation’s challenges, nor admit to the darkness within themselves.
There is, however, only one way to truly learn and emerge stronger from the lessons of the past. That is to understand the darkness inside each of us, and then make a conscious decision to emerge into the sunshine of a brighter day.
The path to brighter days
Business leaders who wish for their organizations to emerge from the darkness must follow these three simple, important steps:
1. Acknowledge your dark side. As a leader, you must grow and be accountable for yourself. If you expect team members to change for the better, you must demonstrate this change in yourself first.
- Ask one of your employees how you can be a better boss.
- Become aware – even painfully so – of your professional and personal shortcomings.
- Become the paragon of personal accountability.
2. Reset your mindset. Leaders in these tough times must remain positive – even if they have to fake it. Research shows that positive people live longer, make more money, and have more friends.
- As any successful marketer will tell you, optimism sells.
- The brain is like any muscle. It must be given regular workouts to keep it sharp. Practice turning away negativity and limiting thoughts, whether they come from within or from the continual nay-saying of the news media.
3. Remember who you are. Think back to a time you overcame adversity in your career. How did you lead?
- Neuroscience tells us that whatever you think about actually expands in your mind. So remember the times you overcame obstacles in the past, and keep your mind focused on what you have done right.
- Our forefathers faced even darker days. Draw on your own courage and remember the generations who have found the daylight for us.
Is there at least a pinhole of light appearing? True business leaders grasp that light, expand its reach, and provide it to their team members. As leaders today, we must be as solid, consistent, and unchanging as the sun. Let your positive mindset light the way through the darkness. Be the light bearer for your organization.