How Do You Lead When the Storm Clouds Hit?

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award-winning performanceI had a speaking engagement in Indianapolis this past Saturday, which meant that I flew in to the Indianapolis airport on Friday. At least, that was the game plan. Those of you who watched the news over the weekend know that much of Indiana was devastated by massive thunderstorms and tornadoes. The actual weather conditions ended up being much worse than the forecasts, which is how I found myself in a small regional jet bouncing violently up and down while dodging lightning strikes on our left and right. After finally making it out of the thunderstorm, we got re-routed to Chicago—and when O’Hare also proved to be “unlandable,” we were re-routed again to South Bend, where we were finally able to land and get some much needed fuel.

Now, I say “we,” but in actuality I had very little to do with the ultimate success of that flight. No, it was the two guys up front—the pilot and co-pilot—who had to rise to the level of “award-winning performance” in order to get us safely through the storm. Literally.

You have storms in your business. They may not be literal storms, but they’re very real. A customer complains; that’s a storm. A competitor opens across the street; that’s a storm. A major supplier goes out of business; that’s a storm. You face storms—some large, some small—all the time.

How do you handle them?

Do you, like the two young pilots on my airplane, rise to the level of “award-winning performance”? Or do you crumble and fold? When the storm hits, do you find a way to fly through it, or do you throw a tantrum, or avoid the problem altogether by going to a movie?

My pilots didn’t have the option of crumbling and folding, of throwing a tantrum, of going to a movie. They couldn’t avoid the problem, because there were lives at stake. The situation demanded award-winning performance, and that’s what they delivered. I’m a private pilot myself, and I’ve flown through some bouncy weather. But never a full-blown, national news making thunderstorm, and never with one hundred lives at stake. I’ve never been under the pressure that these guys were under on Friday.

There may not be lives at stake when the storm hits your business. But you’re the leader—you’re the pilot—and your business, your team, and you yourself should expect award-winning performance. In fact, you should demand it.

Thanks to those two pilots, I made it to my speaking engagement; it was a huge success, and my audience and I had a blast. But more importantly, thanks to those two pilots, I’m still around to write about it.

It’s easy to be a good leader when things are going well. (Well, easier.) But if, like my two pilots on Friday, you can achieve award-winning performance when the storm clouds hit—that’s the day that you’ll become a great leader.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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