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I'm great in a crisis! (But I'm not that great a leader.)

Posted on September 12, 2013 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

By Tami Marler, MBA

Some managers pride themselves on managing crises. Fixing problems and saving their organization from the brink of death is a badge of honor.

While crisis management is one important characteristic of an effective leader, chief executives have to ask, why are we always managing crises, and do I need a crisis manager or a more effective manager?

Often, the fact that your organization finds itself in crisis at all can be investigated back to a lack of planning and (brace yourselves) poor management. Sure, it’s important for your leaders to be lithe, spontaneous and flexible, but fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants management will, more often than not, lead to crisis after crisis.

According to Tim Connor, CSP, an internationally-renowned crisis management, sales and leadership speaker and author, there are specific characteristics, attitudes, behaviors and philosophies inherent in companies that operate with crisis mis-management as a standard.

Following is Connor’s list:

  1. A heavy top-down corporate culture when it comes to information flow.
  2. Organizations where everyone consistently has too much on their plate.
  3. Senior management or ownership that has their ego too vested in outcomes.
  4. Poor communication throughout the organization.
  5. High turnover at the mid and lower levels in the organization.
  6. Poor employee morale.
  7. Organizations that have excessive politics throughout.
  8. Organizations that are more concerned with who rather than what.
  9. Organizations that reward incompetence rather than performance.
  10. A lack of confidence, skill or experience on the part of managers and executives.
  11. Censorship.
  12. Unclear and/or poorly communicated goals, objectives and corporate direction.
  13. Arrogance.
  14. Employees and/or managers that are insecure or lack a positive self-image.
  15. Procrastination.
  16. A lack of accountability or organization discipline.

Connor summarizes the above characteristics into five major contributors: Ego, ignorance, arrogance, politics and communication style. Businesses that operate with these five attributes as driving forces find themselves with poor employee morale, no trust among managers and line staff, high turnover, low accountability, customer base erosion and clueless management.

So, what do you do if your organization is caught up in a whirlwind of crisis management? Following is a list of recommendations that will help you minimize the chaos and ensure your leaders are spending their time on things that keep your company in forward motion:

  1. Develop a strategic plan with clearly-defined vision, mission and core goals. Have every employee participate in the planning process and make sure every employee—from the top down—understands his/her role in ensuring the strategic plan is followed.
  2. Examine incentive-based pay with individual and group milestones tied to the strategic plan and the company’s measures of success.
  3. Make the incentive program and an abbreviated version of the strategic plan available to all employees. Include it in new employee orientations, employee evaluations and all messages to staff.
  4. Develop a meaningful communication program that keeps information coming and going. When employees make suggestions for improvement, use them whenever possible. When you ask employees for input, show them you are listening by employing some of their ideas. Look for opportunities to say yes, rather than roadblocks to say no.
  5. Ensure your managers are educated and experienced in the positions they hold so their subordinates can respect their directives.
  6. Provide your managers with the support they need from qualified, well-trained, experienced support personnel—not just people who have been with your organization for a long time.
  7. Only reward and promote people whose performance results (according to your strategic plan) warrant co-worker respect. In addition to determining whether the employee has exceeded what he/she was hired to do, consider conducting peer evaluations prior to rewarding or promoting anyone to a leadership position.
  8. Have a concise employee evaluation program with a schedule of evaluation periods. Ensure employees know your expectations (and how expectations are measured) by providing them with their evaluation forms during new employee orientation, and make the information available at all times. Give employees cheat sheets to succeed!
  9. Manage by walking around. Visit with employees often and respond to their comments—not with platitudes, but with action.
  10. Throw ego out the window and focus with laser precision on your corporate mission. If you are not on the path to achieving your mission because of ego or pride, get yourself back on the right course.

 Avoiding unnecessary crises requires planning, accountability and effective leadership. It takes courage to take a searching and fearless inventory of your personnel and processes to determine whether you have the right people in the right places doing the right things. But taking such courageous steps might save you some britches, because you'll find yourself flying by the seat of them far less often.

Too young to be old

Posted on March 10, 2013 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I'm young enough that I can still count the wrinkles and gray hairs but old enough that my era as a full-time mom has come to an end. The nest is empty. I can sit around and cry, or I can decide where to go from here.

I've been fortunate to accomplish most things I've set out to accomplish in my life. I've been leader of my high school flag team, a college cheerleader, a professional cheerleader, a college graduate, a masters graduate, Miss Oklahoma, talent winner and Top 10 finalist at Miss America, a professional singer, a professional emcee, a television news reporter, a television news anchor, a business executive...my life has been full.

But if I'm honest, all I really ever wanted and needed to be was a mom. I wanted to have babies and love them and cherish them and be a positive force in their lives and the world they would impact. I got to do that for too short a time. Because of divorce and vastly contraditory parenting styles, I wound up having an empty nest a lot sooner than I had planned.

Today it's too late to go back to the things I gave up to be a mom, and it's too soon to retire to a nursing home rocking chair with my knitting needles and basket of yarn. My husband says I'm too hot to be an old lady.

So I look at people who have reinvented themselves and flown out of the empty nest. My big sister is my greatest example. Jan Marler Morrill used to be the shrinking violet sister who carried my evening gowns when I was performing in pageants. After her Big Star sister brought down the house, Jan would dutifully go to the dressing room to clean up my mess and pack my gowns, hair spray and makeup. She spent her life in the background, taking care of everyone else. It must have been hard when that role came to an end.

Jan could be in a rocking chair somewhere (her nest has been empty for many years), but she never sits still long enough to rock. She's a newly-published author who gives lectures and who every once in a while paints a painting or runs in a marathon or goes on an international vacation or whatever she feels like doing.

I'm sure Jan at some point reached a crossroads where she wondered if her best years were behind her. When you've effectively reached the end of the only life you've ever imagined, it's time to start imaging a new life. That's where I am today.

I've been everything I've ever wanted to be. Now I just need to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Because I'm too young to be old.

Gainfully Unemployed

Posted on March 19, 2011 at 5:47 PM Comments comments (0)

Gainfully Unemployed

(February 16, 2011)

Hypothetically speaking, what if you were to find yourself wildly successful in a career, but some aspect of your job put you at odds with your conscience? What if survival in your career meant dialing back your core beliefs? In such a hypothetical scenario, one might find an opportunity to make a clean exit. And one might find him or herself gainfully unemployed.

In a completely unrelated scenario, I find myself gainfully unemployed since late December. I decided at the time I left my job to take a little time to reflect on my abilities and experience and consider only careers that allow me to use my God-given strengths to truly help others. It's a serious leap of faith in these trying economic times.

The first few days were incredibly difficult for a woman who has worked since the age of 16. I struggled with feelings of guilt for not having something to do, some deadline to meet or some stressful scenario weighing on my shoulders. I redecorated and rearranged the house. I cleaned out my car. I took my elderly mother and uncle on errands. I helped friends with marketing and public relations for their businesses. I dabbled with the 'tween novel I've been writing for five years. I slowly worked my way toward blissful unemployment.

Blissful unemployment lasted about two weeks.

I have been fortunate to never have had to search for a job. I have often joked that I have "Forrest Gumped" my way through life because doors have always just kind of opened for me.

One time after high school graduation I was touring a college campus with a friend and a nervous little old lady nearly ran us down in the quad and told me I was going to be late for tryouts.

"Tryouts?" I asked.

"Yes! Cheerleading tryouts! In the gym!" She exclaimed, leading the way to a surprise fork in my life's journey.

I wasn't even planning to attend college but I tried out for cheerleader, made the squad and got a tuition scholarship. BOOM...I was in college, Forrest Gump style.

Another time I decided to enter a pageant so I could earn scholarship money to attend The University of Tulsa. I wound up winning my first pageant and the ensuing four-year journey changed my life. Becoming Miss Oklahoma, winning the Miss America talent competition and making Top 10 at Miss America earned me $70,000 in scholarships, which earned me a Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration. A stint emceeing the Miss Oklahoma pageant helped me to land my first job in television, and on and on...

I am just beginning the process of thinking about searching for another job, which is not quite the same as actually searching for another job. I'm tweaking my resume, timidly sending it to employers that have posted jobs that match my skill set. One or two jobs really interest me but I know from my experience in the hiring process that most jobs are posted as a formality to meet some legal requirement or company policy. Most jobs are already filled, which is okay because I don't absolutely have to find something until April or so.

So I'm gainfully unemployed. I still have many contributions to make to the right employer and I am willing to wait for the optimal position. I am learning the art of being patient through the calm. I believe with all of my heart that God brought me here (wherever "here" may be) for a reason that will ultimately benefit others. Will I Forrest Gump my way through this one? Stay tuned...