With the possibility of a recession looming over us, global warming threatening the future of our planet, and mass shootings horrifying us way too often, who isn’t more than just a little distracted these days?
Leaders have always had to lead amid some level of uncertainty, but the stakes for today’s issues are higher and create more stress than usual. In troubling times, the need for strong leadership is particularly important. Beyond the basics of having a clear vision, a high functioning team, and the right culture, what is the secret sauce for success when your team is facing an elevated level of anxiety?
Many of you remember the Good Friday tornado that hit St. Louis in 2011. I was heading up a commercial flooring company at that time and had several crews working at Lambert Airport that evening installing new flooring and providing floor maintenance services.
Lambert was hit hard and suffered significant damage, and I heard harrowing stories from my employees. One of the men installing ceramic tile in the baggage claim area was blown across the floor and slammed into a wall when the wind blew through the glass doors. To this day, I’m thankful that he was “just a little banged up and sore, but not really hurt”.
My crews and countless other workers went back to Lambert as soon as it was safe and their extraordinary efforts enabled the airport to return to a full flight schedule less than four days after being devastated a tornado. As the airport’s Director said, it was “miraculous”.
Floor installers and other construction personnel always work hard, but what inspired them to perform a “miracle”? After experiencing the trauma of living through a tornado, how were they able to focus on cleaning up the wreckage? Where did they find the physical and mental reserves to work such long hours?
To a person, their answers reflected the feeling that their job wasn’t just replacing damaged floors. The purpose of their work was to get the airport functioning again…and they were passionate about making that happen.
Purpose and passion kept them going during this challenging time.
The most productive condition of all is when team members are aligned behind a shared purpose and passionate about achieving their collective vision.
In “The Little Prince”, Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
A good leader has mastered the basics of clear vision, the right people, and positive culture, but a great leader knows how to inspire people to go beyond what is ordinarily possible.
In other words, great leadership inspires people to perform “miracles”.