I’ve never worked in the dairy industry, but I’ve heard this axiom all my life, a metaphor for those leaders in critical periods who rise to the occasion. We have all seen this happen under many different circumstances: earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, landslides, natural and human-made disasters, and war. Often, to our surprise, those who we never thought could lead rose to the occasion, and those elected, appointed, installed leaders who we were counting on failed. We’re living through one of those periods. COVID-19 can’t be seen, smelled, heard, or touched, but it sure has threatened our way of life, and we have started to see the cream in Santa Clarita Valley rise to the top in our community.
In times of crisis, we thirst for leaders who express a vision, exhibit conviction, get judgment right, and are clear, direct, purposeful and inspirational communicators. We follow leaders who offer visions beyond today, tomorrow and next month, visions rooted in faith, hope and charity. Faith that together as a family, business, community and nation, we will overcome and be better for the journey we labored on. Hope, to those in fear, that there will be a better tomorrow after COVID-19. And charity, empathetic and big-hearted responses to our employees, co-workers, family, neighbors and countrymen that we’ve got your back, we’re in this together, you won’t go without as long as I have something to give. This is the vision our community thirsts for!
Leaders exhibiting conviction have the requisite grit to get us through any level of hardship. Gritty leaders persevere through adversity; they’re in the game to the end; they just flat don’t give up. They commit to goals and inspire their followers to achieve them. They give confidence that no matter the hardship, we will successfully see it through to the end. Their conviction entails working strenuously through challenges, maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. They approach achievement as a marathon, and their advantage is stamina. Leaders of conviction stay the course and exhibit a will to succeed!
Standout leaders in crisis express sound and reasoned judgments, judgments woven with personal virtues and values. Leaders know their judgments will produce positive and negative outcomes, impacting the achievement of the mission, goals and subordinate objectives. In arriving at judgments, leaders understand the risk of failure. In so doing, they ruthlessly hunt for facts and sniff out opinions, temper, but not ignore their guts, and actively guard against their biases before coming to judgments. They use techniques to assess risk and avoid at all costs relying solely on their guts. But when the facts can’t be ferreted out and opinions flourish, the leaders’ guts prevail in assessing risk and arriving at sound and reasoned judgments.
The most challenging aspect of leading is communication, all types of communication; written, spoken, nonverbal, compounded by emotion, gestures, expressions, and exacerbated by ill-chosen words and misguided behaviors. Clear, direct, purposeful and inspirational communication is a skill few people possess, and fewer leaders practice. Poorly communicated good ideas are lost. Misunderstandings occur because the communicator creates confusion resulting from their lack of clarity or directness in their message. Many regrets are expressed by leaders who wished they could retrieve poorly communicated messages because it caused unintended outcomes. There is no level of leadership immune to poor communication. Like any other critical skill, clear, direct, purposeful and inspirational communication, whether written, spoken or nonverbal, requires considerable effort on each of our parts to get it right.
Whether we like it or not, we’re only halfway through the burdens imposed by the pandemic. We can’t wish this plight away, but we can plan because we have a better and more complete understanding of its impact. We see the light at the end of the tunnel: therapeutics are advancing, and we’re close to receiving a vaccine with 95% efficacy. Public safety protocols and guidelines are in place. Nevertheless, vaccine production and distribution to the general population will take months. Calibrate your expectations for a new normal for the end of spring 2021; plan by leading and rethinking, refitting, retooling, reorganizing your business, and positioning it to thrive in the new normal.
Most importantly, during this extraordinary time, be the cream that rises to the top and leads, thinks, plans and acts by expressing a vision, exhibiting conviction, getting judgment right and clearly, directly, purposefully and inspirationally communicating with those thirsting for your leadership. Now, let’s get after it!
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.