Growing Great Companies


Visionary Leadership

Terrorism in London. The continued manufacturing shift to China. Pension plan problems for major US corporations. Wherever you look, you see problems. You see trends and events that can have significant impacts on your business. You see risks…and you’re not the only one seeing these things, so are all the people in your organization.

The question is “how do you react?”  As a leader, people watch your every move. They study you, looking for clues to help them determine what to think and what to do. They look to you for answers…especially during times of uncertainty. Rudyard Kipling once wrote that the most critical attribute of a successful person is the ability to keep your head about you when those around you are losing their heads, and some are even blaming it on you.

Now it’s up to you to keep your head on straight and provide the vision and leadership your organization needs to manage the risks, deal with the uncertainty, and continue to prosper for years to come. Here are a few suggestions to help you:

Take Stock of Your Situation

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” But left unchecked, fear leads to disasterous consequences. In the absence of information, people will invent data. It often starts around the water cooler (or these days on e-mail). One person suggests his ideas about how the company will react to some issue (and as human beings we tend to take very pessimistic guesses). These suppositions quickly become rumors. The rumors become unspoken truths, and suddenly people in your organization are basing their decisions and actions on false data. And if the data is negative enough, attrition of your top talent is likely to occur. So how do you combat fear?


Step 1: Articulate worst-case scenarios. Perhaps you fear the pharmaceutical industry can’t overcome the threat China poses, or that rising R&D costs mean your firm won’t remain competitive. Or maybe your fears are more localized, relating to specific problems in your department or the threat of layoffs coming down from corporate. Your fears may even be personal—what if I get laid off? How can I afford to send my kids to college?

Whether global, local or personal, fear shakes our confidence, causes stress, and keep us awake at night. Yet as scary as these situations may be, we often over-estimate the negatives and under-estimate our ability to deal with them. As a young child you may have feared monsters under the bed. What was the best way to get rid of them? Simple, turn on the lights. And that’s just what you need to do with your fears. Shine the light on them. Clearly state (to yourself) what you fear. Make a list of your worst-case scenarios…because most likely, people in your organization are fearing the same things.

Step 2: Assess your strengths. Now that you’ve unmasked your fears, it’s time to make a realistic assessment of the tools you can use to address them. Start by making a list of anything you consider to be an asset or resource. These can be specific people, technologies, industry knowledge or any other competencies your organization has and can use to gain advantage in the marketplace. They can also be intangible qualities such as the way you react to stress or how willing you are to adapt to new challenges.

Step 3: Develop contingencies. For each of the fears on your worst-case scenario list brainstorm a list of contingencies. Ask yourself the question “what would we do if this situation became reality?” Review your resources and strengths. Which resources could you put to use to address your fears?

To develop contingency plans, you can also look at the past challenges your organization has faced and how they were addressed. What went well that you would repeat? And what changes would you make the next time?  You can also look outside the pharmaceutical and biotech industries at other businesses that have faced similar challenges. What did the successful firms do to overcome their challenges? What strategies can you emulate?

See Where You Can Be of Service

Mother Theresa offered very practical advice when she said, “If you want to know how to change the world, pick up a broom.” As a visionary leader, your job is to find opportunity, and often the best opportunities come from being in service to others. This excercise is not about determining what’s profitable (although that will come later), but rather how you might be able to better service the needs of your industry, your customers and your community. For example, in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, local bookstores found themselves to be important sources of information and gathering spaces for neighbors in search of answers and comfort. While large-scale tragedies magnify the need for community, the need—and opportunity—for service always exists.

Ask yourself how your business can be of greater service or help create a more enriched, positive, supportive community.

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