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Leading: What to do when something goes wrong

October 25, 2017 -  By


Leading, and managing a business within that broader concept, is challenging enough when the economy is strong, your labor force is plentiful and motivated, resource pricing is stable and customers are hungry for what you have to offer. It’s fun to lead when that revenue and earnings chart is pointed upward and to the right.

In a healthy business, the trend should be pointed consistently upward over time, but business and life are not typically a straight-up experience. There are bound to be plateaus and dips, especially when something goes wrong. As a leader, it’s mostly what you do in those times that defines your career and your legacy. That’s when your leadership mettle is tested.

Your values, core beliefs, guiding principles, or whatever you may call them, should always be the filter through which decisions are evaluated. If you don’t have them, or can’t recall them, or have to pull them out of a dusty binder, pause right here. You have some serious thinking to do, so you can make the most of good times and will be ready when something goes wrong.

Let’s presume that your culture is vibrant and therefore everyone on your team knows how your business is wired and especially why you do what you do. When something goes wrong, your values become even more important than ever, because they will come under pressure and can be difficult to defend. If your values are worthwhile in good times, they are worth defending in tough times. As a leader, you instinctively realize this and will dig down deep to do the right things under difficult circumstances.

Leaders plan before they start, then manage and monitor as operations are performed. This is the essence of what separates true “organizations” from random group activities and herd mentalities. By paying attention to your crucial key performance indicators, you can sense when one business element is getting out of sync with the others. In many cases, subtle adjustments are all you need to keep the organization on course and moving upward. But not always.

Internal vs. external challenges

Sometimes market shifts and other factors create seismic changes that disrupt the business. When that happens, it is crucial to react while resisting a tendency to overreact. There is no perfect way to gauge exactly how much of an adjustment is enough, but to wait and do nothing is a default decision to fall backward, or worse. Sure and steady adjustments are usually a better choice over knee-jerk over-reactions; the organizational damage done through major reactions can prove to be irreversible.

Leaders don’t get angry and look for someone to blame when something goes wrong. They look in the mirror. Team members absolutely watch for the leader’s reaction and then determine their own. Will it be to put their heads down and hide until the storm (maybe) passes, or will it be to willingly engage in needed actions for the business to recover its momentum? Those crucial moments that exist between problem and response will influence the ultimate outcome.

Internal problems may be solved by internal actions, if the business possesses the internal expertise to solve them. Sometimes, however, internal problems are better solved by an external resource who can offer the exact knowledge and perspective needed by the business at that point in time. (This is where professional consultants can contribute.) Conversely, external problems (e.g., market-driven ones) may call for internal adjustments, but they can also signal a fundamental change in circumstances that warrant outside input. It’s up to the leader to understand the nature of the problem and to identify where the expertise and resources exist to address it.

Lead from the front, filter decisions through values, manage and monitor, adjust as indicated, keep your cool and seek solutions from inside and outside the business. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s what leaders do every day and especially when something goes wrong.


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About the Author:

William (Bill) Dellecker is the Chief Development Officer of HeartLand LLC, which is dedicated to building relationships and delivering exceptional service through leading commercial landscape firms across the Mid West and Mountain West. You can learn more about Heartland at Bill also writes regularly about business culture and leadership on his personal blog, cultivation(s).

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