Leadership in Hard Times

A man approached me while I was in queue at the post office. “Gary,” he said, “I’m going to work and defeat that tax levy you have on the ballot.”

I had been elected to the school board. The system had gotten into dire straights forcing cuts in employment and courses.

“The easiest thing to do,” I replied, “is to lead for a negative result. Why don’t you help us lead toward the future and a stronger school system poised for the future for these kids and the community.”

There was a company-wide management retreat. The president stated in his keynote, “Our business plan for the year is to stretch out our payables and collect receivables more quickly.”

Nowhere was the hard work of developing products to serve customers better. Or the hard work of encouraging all of us to look for innovation in systems and products or what could add more customers.

Once I was at a business roundtable seated beside one of the most powerful (or infamous) CEOs in America at the time. He was famous for how hard he questioned his managers publicly. There was only talk of cutting, not of finding new ways to serve. He became a former CEO of a former company.

Yes, the easy work of leadership is to emphasize negativity and stir negative emotions.

The hard work of leadership is to bring people together working toward something better for all.

Is this a political statement? Yes.

Is this an organizational observation? Yes.

Is this a personal challenge to each of us? Yes.

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