Achieving Positive Impact During Challenging Times
With all the challenges facing today’s business leader, one may struggle to identify how to have the most significant positive impact over time. Consider that the Dow Jones has moved from 29,423 in mid-February, to 18,591 in late-March (36% drop), to 26,019 in early July (40% gain from March). Unemployment rates have moved from 4.4% in March, to 14.7% in April, to 11.1% in June. Covid-19 has resulted in closed borders at local, state, and national levels. What actions should a business leader take during these challenging times? Here are three examples of impactful actions by leaders I have experienced personally:
Encourage Risk-Managed Choices
In high school, I was encouraged by my father when asking for more spending money, to get a job. Through a neighbor, I began work at a locally owned grocery store chain called Tom Thumb. I enjoyed the work and moved from a packaging clerk to a part-time stocker to a full-time stocker, all while continuing my high-school studies. Mid-year in my senior year, it was time to apply for colleges. My father had always guided us towards attending college, but I made great money and enjoyed life in the grocery business. I wanted to become a grocery store manager – which paid six-figure incomes at the time. Knowing children often don’t listen to their parents, my father suggested I meet with the Human Resources department at Tom Thumb before giving up on college.
I scheduled an appointment, put on my best (and only) suit, and met with Mike Kissner, Vice President of Human Resources at Tom Thumb. Making time to meet with a seventeen-year-old student was Mike’s first gift to me. He listened attentively as I described my dilemma of college or grocery store manager. Mike then suggested I go off to college for one semester – and promised that if I didn’t like college, I could come back, and he would place me in the management training program to be a store director. I did enroll in college, enjoyed the experience, and achieved a degree in Computer Science, opening a career in a fast-growing field. Mike’s greatest gift to me was allowing me to pursue one choice while keeping the door open for another choice. Impactful leaders allow employees to pursue low-to-moderate risk alternatives, exploring multiple future paths.
Move Beyond the Comfort Zone
Being the first generation in my family to graduate from college, I started school as a shy and quiet-spoken student. I rarely attended school activities outside my immediate group of friends and never spoke up in class. I focused on my Computer Science studies and spent many hours in the “computer center” working on class assignments. My senior year’s key assignment was a group project where five students were assigned to identify a need and create a computer system to solve the need. Our team worked together well and developed a cool system called Desperate Dating System (DDS), matching students with like interests. One of the individuals on my team was Julie Mitchell Eggers, who provided soft skill leadership to the team and kept us interacting positively.
Julie and I both joined Mobil Oil after graduation and worked in different departments on the same floor. We grew into friends and interacted socially. During one conversation, Julie mentioned several people were going to enroll at Southern Methodist University to get an MBA Degree. We had just graduated from undergraduate school two years before, and I saw no reason to study further.
Julie continued to ask me if I was interested in SMU and answered my many questions on what graduate school would be like, who would I study with, how it would benefit my career, etc. She tee’d it up as a group is going, and we will be a team going through school together. My SMU MBA has opened career doors I never dreamed of, including an opportunity to work at world-renown Booz Allen & Hamilton. I would never have an MBA without Julie’s encouragement. Julie was an impactful leader who encouraged us to move beyond our comfort zone to achieve instrumental success together.
Empathy Empowered Action in Tough Times
After working at Mobil Oil for thirteen-years, much as an internal change agent, I entered the professional consulting industry. I was blessed to be recruited by Booz Allen & Hamilton, where I contributed to information technology strategies for oil & gas firms and financial services organizations. My work at Booz involved long-hours and continuous travel, including some international travel. We worked on crucial issues facing our clients and had a directional impact on large organizations. The people of Booz Allen are incredibly brilliant, sourced from the best universities around the world, and form strong teams from long-hours together, driving to the 99.999% best solution.
In the year 2000, the business economy experienced the “dot com” crash. The crash saw the Nasdaq index tumble from a peak of 5,048.62 on March 10, 2000, to 1,139.90 on October 4, 2002, a 76.81% fall. Like other firms, Booz Allen was faced with hard business decisions, and in August 2001, I and others were laid off from Booz Allen. In the two days before the lay-off notice, my wife and I had purchased a second house and learned she had breast cancer.
At the time, I worked directly for Tim Blansett, a managing partner at Booz Allen, who also sat on the Board of Booz Allen. After learning of our multiple unfortunate setbacks in such a short time, Tim went back to the Booz Allen Board on his own initiative and restructured my exit package to allow medical insurance for four months, covering my wife’s surgery and recovery. Tim’s empathy and action positively impacted my family and me in ways he will never know – and made me a lifetime proponent of the people and firm of Booz Allen & Hamilton (now Booz & Co).
Faced with today’s challenging environment, business leaders can have life-long positive impacts by allowing employees to pursue low-to-moderate risk alternatives exploring multiple future paths, encouraging employees to move beyond comfort zones to achieve instrumental success together and acting with empathy and action to help people in times of need.
What actions will you take today, despite the challenging times, that have a long-lasting, positive impact?
Written by: Bill Wachel, Principal
Bill loves to solve tough business challenges, leveraging process changes and technology. He works with clients to better define strategic business problems and create a path to success. Bill brings a depth of experience and knowledge gained from work as both a CIO and consultant. He has partnered with peer executives and overall organizational staff to enhance customer experiences, tap new markets, and increase revenues in software as a service, healthcare, retail, oil and gas, and other industries.
Reach out to Bill to explore these ideas further!