Like every other leader I know, my plan for 2020 was blown up when COVID-19 took precedence. Everything changed, including how I was to spend my time the rest of the year. Gone were major trade shows, in-person meetings, and speaking engagements. In was much more time at home and the office.
A few months into the pandemic I started to question my worthiness to the organization. While I was plenty engaged leading operational meetings, providing occasional insights to the sales team, and communicating frequently to the organization; I did not feel like I was leaving much of a mark in those areas.
This bothered me, so I sought guidance from my Executive Coach. On one hand, he reminded me how much of an adrenaline junkie I had become in years past chasing different sales opportunities and building one-on-one relationships. Perhaps what I was feeling was symptomatic to the loss of this, which admittedly was more “exciting” than the activities I was doing in 2020. On the other hand, however, he challenged me to think about the things I could do that no one else could or would do. Without giving me a concrete answer, he challenged me to think and pray about these things. He then challenged me to act on whatever I discovered.
What I discovered was that pandemic or not, the organization was asking me to start working “on” the business and not “in” the business —at least not all the time. This meant that while part of me was still mourning the loss of the “old” reality, I had to adjust my role to focus on what needed attention inside the organization. This meant handling all the things people complain about but either felt like they could do nothing about, or were simply unwilling to. I had to embrace doing the difficult.
I began to make mental notes of all the things I had been hearing our team talk, or even complain, about. I then began having direct conversations with people about things I was observing. While these conversations were almost always centered on soliciting the other leader’s help to address those problems, they were still sticky because they frequently dealt with problems underneath them. I soon discovered that a good judgement of when to have these conversations was what I was thinking about driving home at night. I reasoned that if I was thinking about certain topics while I was driving home, so was everyone else on our team. Was I going to wait for them to act, or was I going to lead? This question often gave me the courage to act.
My Executive Coach later helped me clarify that I should be involved when things were broken, new, or part of our brand. Obviously, all the above falls mainly into the “broken” category. That said, I think the order is intentional. Doing the difficult starts with me. I hope all the other leaders on our executive team feel the same way because it will take all of us doing the difficult to earn the excellence we seek.
I close by reminding that doing the difficult does not change culture overnight. In fact, I do not think the difficult things I have done the last few months are even visible, yet, to most of the organization. But the seeds being sewn now will one day blossom. Change is always slow and then sudden. So, I encourage you to do the difficult. For people love to follow those willing to do what they would rather not do themselves.