Keeping Your Head When Those Around You Are Losing Theirs!
Those of us providing services to leaders who are over their heads are getting some of the fall out. What can you do?
I've been talking to a select group of clients recently, people who are either in senior leadership or work with senior leaders, to ask them what's on their minds. Below are some ideas that may help you, the independent contractor, consultant or service provider, as the people you deal with are struggling and may be spinning out of control.
It's no surprise that leaders are stressed, especially when lay-offs appear to be looming (or have started). Senior leaders typically know for a period of time before informing staff and what we know from lay-off research done in the 70's, is that "doom knowledge" (my term) is even more stressful than just dealing with the event. Leaders are trying everything they know to keep the lay-offs from happening, and carry the burden of knowing that the decisions they make can have a devastating impact on the lives of their staff. Absolutely no one feels safe when people start losing jobs, so they are dealing with enormous staff reaction with which they may not be equipped to handle.
Because times had been relatively good for awhile, a number of senior leaders have no experience in dealing with hard times, so why should they be any good at it? Some are hunkering down and becoming more territorial than ever- circling the wagons with the unrealistic hope that no one can get through. This doesn't bode well for anyone when you look to leadership, for well, leadership!
When leaders' resilience is low, they can get into all sorts of trouble above and beyond what the marketplace is doing. They can go to the extremes of being paralyzed or dictatorial. Old dysfunctions re-emerge. Trying to do business with someone in that place tries your patience. They called you, didn't they? And now they don't get back to you on the proposal you submitted, they don't return calls, or they get stuck on some trivial point that should be quickly resolved.
One of the truisms of change as described by William Bridges, is that old weaknesses come roaring back. If individuals or organizations are not great at making decisions, guess what, it'll get worse under duress. If leadership is a bit vague during the best of times, it's really going to be lacking now. If communication is a problem, believe me, it's going to resemble the old child's game of whispering a message around a circle and see how mangled it gets by the time it reaches the last person.
These harsh economic times don't just affect people while they are at work, there's plenty of stress to be had at home. There are kids who can't afford to move out and ageing parents whose investments have dried up and may be in trouble. Welcome to the "sandwich" generation. Marriages that weren't all that strong before can collapse under money strain. There's a reason alcohol sales go up during times of recession- and again, old dysfunctions re-emerge. And people take all this to work with them (well, hopefully not the booze!)
So what can you, the service provider, do when clients are acting flakey and are stressed to the max?
1. Don't take it personally. Any of it. Even if you become the scapegoat for something, realize it may be just blowing off steam (of course, if there's a legitimate issue, take care of it). Don't add to the mix by getting worked up yourself.
2. Provide limited choices, but do give choices. Many people resort to black and white thinking when they are stressed. Show them options that are related to expense and results. Just don't offer so many options as to be overwhelming, or they may give up just to simplify things.
3. Realize you'll probably be the one to have to keep following up. When there's chaos at work, people miss appointments, forget to call or never dig through their inbox to respond to you.
4. Take care of your own stress. Those of us who are independent contractors are certainly feeling the pinch of clients who abandon projects, delay or don't respond as they used to. Do the things you can do to keep a healthy sense of power. Attend Biznik events, search for new opportunities and keep that pipe line filled with potential projects and clients.
5. Keep perspective- this too shall pass. Things will eventually turn around. Meanwhile business is still being conducted and money is still being spent. Will the marketplace be different? Most likely, but you'll be prepared to succeed in it.
Learn more about the author, Louise Carnachan.
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- stressed leaders
- independent contractors
- service providers