There is a truth about change that often gets disregarded or altogether missed. Sure, change brings unexpected problems. That’s where most of us want to focus. And since the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve all experienced multiple unexpected difficulties. But the most successful leaders among us focus on something quite different. These folks understand, prepare for — even seek out — something else. What is this overlooked truth of change?
Are You Ready for Change?
My last road trip before non-essential business ground to a COVID-19 induced halt was to suburban Detroit. There on March 9, 2020, I led a half-day executive leadership workshop for one of the most respected electrical contracting firms in Michigan.
Just a few days later, out of an abundance of caution, the firm temporarily shuttered its operations and furloughed a number of employees. Bob, the CEO, made the decision to wait out the pandemic. But this company executive couldn’t know his community would soon desperately need the service of his company.
A Challenge Unlike Anything Experienced
During the early days of the virus, Detroit was one of the hardest hit U.S. metro areas. The number of infected was staggering and was escalating by the day. Despite concerted efforts to sanitize, shelter in place and social distance, official forecasts regarding the disease were sobering. A frightful realization came with these dire forecasts. Adequate health care facilities were sorely lacking for the number expected to need help. Something had to be done and quickly.
In the midst of this, Bob unexpectedly received a call from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of his electrical engineering firm. Plans were shared with him regarding the immediate construction of a 1000-bed hospital — and the related need for electrical services.
The required professional services would have to be completed within a two-week period. On top of that, Bob learned the construction services — design, material, labor — would need to be self-funded with the government to provide reimbursement sometime after the project was completed.
Unquestionably, this project presented a challenge unlike anything experienced in the long, distinguished history of the firm. Success was not a given. That realization notwithstanding, Bob readily agreed to the project. “Why?” I asked. “Because it is what we we do — it’s really what we stand for,” was Bob’s focused response.
“The Most Intense Project Ever”
So began the single “most intense project” this engineering firm had ever undertaken. For two relentless weeks, crews worked around the clock. Thousands of phone calls, emails and texts were exchanged. Critical meetings took place whenever, wherever and with whomever necessary. Design, material and labor-related decisions were made in record time. Labor and management forged a working arrangement allowing “things to happen as needed,” without unnecessary delay.
In the end, the hospital’s electrical services were designed, constructed and completed within the predetermined 2-week time period. In recounting the effort, Bob proudly described the experience as the “most rewarding experience of my career,” before adding, “now we pray that no one ever has the need to use this building.”
That’s right. By the time the building was finished, the tide had turned. The “infection curve” had flattened and was beginning to trend downward. The newly constructed hospital currently sits unoccupied.
A glaring example of government waste? Absolutely not. Instead a testament to the focused efforts of prepared leaders, healthcare professionals, even ordinary citizens who did what they could, where they were, with what they had — in the face of immense stress and in spite of great uncertainty.
When Is The Best Time to Prepare for a Crisis?
No one could have predicted the onset of COVID-19 crisis. However, this company leader could predict that sooner or later, some sort of significant challenge was sure to befall his leaders and the organization they lead. Rather than stand idly by and wait for that fateful day with unprepared leaders, this leader did what the good leaders do. He went to work preparing his leaders before a crisis hits — not after.
Yesterday, 63 days since my last session with this impressive group, we continued our leadership training via Zoom. The timely subject? “Helping Leaders Manage Change, Fear and Stress.”
I emphasized several hard truths about change and fear including…
- Change is most challenging for those who are most comfortable.
- Most change is a result of FORCE, not CHOICE.
- Unfamiliar experiences are breeding grounds for new fears.
- Unsuccessful experiences can compound our fears.
Then we dug into a different way to look at change…
- Change is predictable; it impacts everyone; and it is not necessarily BAD.
- To grow personally and professionally, we must confront our fears.
- Finally, when change does occur, there will ALWAYS be new problems and NEW OPPORTUNITIES.
That’s it — the most often overlooked truth of change.
Change ALWAYS Brings New Opportunities
When he shuttered the office and sent employees home, Bob wasn’t expecting an opportunity for the “most rewarding experience of his career” to materialize. He didn’t anticipate that he and his team would be leading the “most intense project ever” — a project requiring the highest degrees of planning, decision making, communication, coordination, personal and professional commitment.
The reality is leaders don’t have the freedom to pick the time and place where their leadership skills will be most needed and applied for the greatest benefit. Nevertheless, successful leaders need to be prepared with the skills to seize the opportunities change brings long before the occasion arises.
This company leader and his team are a living object lesson for being prepared when opportunity knocks. I’m proud of Bob, his entire team and the work they did for their neighbors and community with the stakes never higher. Leadership job well done!
The bottom line is the best leaders are ready to offer service and take action when needed.
The questions we all need to answer are these: Are we — as leaders — ready to capitalize on the new problems and the new opportunities change will inevitably bring? And if not, what are we doing to get ready?
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