It takes a special breed of leadership to lead a turn around. To take an entity of any size whether they’re a team, department, or entire organization or industry from awful to awesome is quite a challenge. Not everyone can do it. Those who do are often hailed as heroes or sheroes.
When I think of the term “turn around”, I consider things like:
- Profitability; from the brink of bankruptcy to amazing profitability
- Organizational culture; from toxic to terrific
- Productivity; from low productivity to high productivity
- Waste; from excessive waste to a lean, mean, quality machine
- Market share; from a sliver of the market to dominating the market
There’s a story in the Bible about a Philippian jailor who found himself in an awful situation. He was asleep on the job one night until an earthquake came and shook things up. The quake caused the handcuffs and shackles to fall from the wrists and ankles of the inmates and, when the jailor awakened, he assumed they escaped. In that day and time something like this could cost him more than his career. It could literally cost him his life. Feeling like he had nothing to live for, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself until the inmates yelled through the darkness, “Don’t hurt yourself. We’re all here.” Through a series of events, he is at home enjoying an awesome time with his family…and the inmates.
The story had an awful beginning, but an awesome ending. He lead himself to a turn around. His story provides five keys to empower us to lead ourselves and others to dramatic improvement.
1. Accurate Assessment
The jailor assumed the inmates escaped. He was wrong and it nearly killed him.
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” ― Max DePree
Leading a turn around begins with accurately defining what’s going on. It is vital to get to the root cause of the situation and estimate, as accurately as possible, how much time, cost, manpower, etc. may be required to make improvement happen.
It is also worth noting that the jailor was self-destructive until he listened to the inmates. Listening helped him see things more clearly and with greater precision. Leaders would do well to listen to others who can provide critical information necessary for accurately assessing what’s really going on.
2. Vision for the Future
The correction officer’s story ends with an awesome scene. He, his family, and the inmates were in his home having a blast. Everything worked out just fine. He couldn’t see it when he was about to kill himself, though. Lack of vision can prove deadly when it comes to people’s lives and the lives of teams and organizations.
If you want to lead a turn around, develop a vision for the future. Imagine how awesome things can become. Repeatedly articulate it to the people you lead in concise and compelling ways. Vision inspires us. It brings out the best in us. It is the fuel we need to keep going.
“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” -Steve Jobs
3. Courageous Curiosity
The jailor was courageous enough to ask a question that made him examine himself. He did not assume he was not part of the problem and asked a question that opened the door to feedback. He asked, “What must I do to be saved?” There are two essential principles in his question:
1. What must be done? In other words, what are the non-negotiable factors for the turn around? The answer to this question goes something like Things will not turn around if _______________ is not done.
2. What must I do? Is there anything critical that only the leader can do in order to turn things around? What cannot be delegated?
Demonstrate inquisitive leadership and be courageously curious. Don’t assume you’re not part of the problem.
4. Strategic Solutions
The response to his question was, “Believe.” He had to change his thinking. It was an essential component of his strategy to change his situation for the better.
Leading a turn around requires strategic solutions with immediate, short-term, and long-term goals that all make the vision become a reality. Set goals and assign roles pertinent personnel will play to help reach them. Be flexible with the goals and change them when necessary. Determine and execute action steps. Hold people accountable. Create short-term wins. Keep everyone motivated. Keep moving forward.
5. Divine Connections
I believe it was God’s divine providence that brought the jailor and the inmates together. They connected on a deep level. They were beaten before they were locked up. Although he didn’t hurt them, the jailor washed their wounds.
This is a tremendous demonstration of empathy, which is one of the pillars of emotional intelligence (EI). Leaders with high EI are more likely to connect and resonate with the people they lead and produce better results than dissonant leaders. This is especially true in times of crisis.