How to Turn Crisis into Clarity and Ignite Growth
An Indiana insurance CEO ushered his company through financial turmoil and a major layoff to become stronger than ever.
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One of the most challenging and daunting tasks any leader will face is learning how to successfully lead through change and not only survive extreme adversity but still create massive growth.
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In life as well as business, there will be times when negative, perhaps unthinkable, situations arise, and we are forced to think fast and make our move.
Often, people in these circumstances fall victim to curling back up in their comfort zone and avoiding further discomfort, by any means necessary. But in business, this becomes a tragic formula that over time can force an organization, regardless of size, to close its doors. As an entrepreneur and leader of that organization, you must not only be obsessively good at putting out fires but at figuring out how to turn crisis into clarity and the ignition of tremendous growth.
As a former professional athlete, called on to perform under intense pressure and turn negatives into breakthroughs, I learned what separates an average player from a great one. The same exact characteristics are needed to win and thrive in business.
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Tim Leman,chairman and CEO of Gibson, an Indiana-based insurance, risk-management and health-benefits advisor. Tim has an amazing passion for leadership, and his track record of success shows it. Under Leman's leadership and guidance, Gibson has endured a lot of rapid change in the marketplace and has risen to become one of the top insurance agencies in North America.
Leman is also the author of the book rEvolution, the powerful story of his transformation from a first-time CEO to head of a thriving professional services firm. rEvolution provides personal insights and practical guidance on how to utilize a business crisis to bring about change, evolution and growth.
Leman and I discussed his evolution as a leader and five key leadership traits that helped him turn crisis into clarity and ignite growth.
All great leaders, regardless of industry, are extremely resilient and never quit at the first sign of trouble. In 2009 and 2010 ,when the recession was in full swing, 10 percent of Gibson's workforce was laid off.
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"We were in financial turmoil and it would have been so easy to give up and sell in that moment of time," Leman told me. Even though giving up and selling the company would have been the easiest route, Leman remained resilient and didn't give in. "Without dogged perseverance and a tenacious personal belief system I wouldn't have made it," he acknowledged. "You have to survive to even have the chance to evolve. Don't give up the fight."
I couldn't agree with Leman more. The best leaders, teams and organizations never give up the fight regardless of how tough things are at the moment. So, get connected to your personal belief system just as Tim Leman did. Why do you do what you do? What's your long-term vision? How do you want to be remembered as a leader?
In order to build a great company and successfully lead through change, you must become the most resilient person you know. Don't give up the fight!
Being introspective doesn't happen right away for a lot of leaders. One of the easiest things in the world to do is to constantly place the blame elsewhere and never look within to question your own actions and beliefs.
"What changed for me was getting crushed in my '360' reviews [employee and supervisory feedback], which started the process for me of looking within and then wanting to change for the right reasons," Leman told me. "The best leaders are always looking for ways to maximize their efficiency and be better more of the time. One of the best ways to do this is to make it a priority to take a weekly or monthly review of your leadership style and ask yourself how you can become a more effective leader."
Leman added, "The ability to self-correct is critical to improving your leadership style. Leaders without followers can't drive change. Become more self-aware or find others to help you."
The market and world we live in is constantly changing, which means that as leaders we must be more adaptive than ever and willing to change, as well. And change is hard; change is extremely uncomfortable. But it's an absolute must if you are looking to create extraordinary breakthroughs.
Leman said, "Nothing is static these days, and you can't afford to be, either. Transform or die. It's a message that you have to be communicating to your team all the time." He went on to say, "The more prepared your team is to live in a fluid and evolving world, the easier it will be to implement necessary change in your organization."
Be adaptive and willing to step out of your comfort zone. Some of my own biggest breakthroughs in business have taken place when I forced myself to get uncomfortable. You will never experience greatness in anything if comfort is what you seek.
"Collaboration is about input and influence versus coercion. Your people want to be heard, understood and most importantly, actively involved," Leman said to me.
The greatest leaders and coaches in the world will be the first to tell you that the success they are experiencing is because of the people they have around them. Not only have they done a great job of creating more leaders and positioning themselves around the right people, but they have also created a collaborative culture where everyone is in tune with what is going on.
To give you a perfect example of what this culture may look like, Leman decided that he wanted to be 100 percent transparent with his employees and start sharing all the financials with them and where the company was headed. This authentic approach did wonders for him as leader, and he was able to create a culture based on trust and honesty. Authenticity is a quality that will always help a leader prevail.
One of the most fascinating things about the work I do as a keynote speaker is to experience firsthand the disconnect between management and everyone else within an organization. Before each and every speaking engagement, I spend a great deal of time with the leadership and then with some of the other employees.
And it's always amazing to me to hear leadership describe the company's vision as one thing, while each employee I talk to says something completely different. Great companies don't have this disconnect: Everyone within the organization is very clear about what the vision is and what's required of him or her each and every day at work. "No strategy or tactic can trump organizational clarity," Leman said. "Clarity creates an organizational road map to success. It drives faster and better decision-making while increasing trust."
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I hope these five traits that have helped Tim Leman build a great company and turn crisis into clarity and growth add value to your own leadership style wherever you may be in your journey.