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  • by Art Dykstra

From My Pad to Yours

Leaders as Emergency Generators

We have a home in Michigan located in a remote area that is not too far removed from the Lake Michigan lake-effect snow belt. Naturally, it tends to get bombarded by storms—especially in the winter. Blizzards can take down the power lines and cut off the lights, furnace, phones, refrigerator, etc. We’ve solved the problem by installing an emergency generator.  It works like a charm. When howling winds and heavy snow knock down power lines, the generator turns on automatically, bringing the household appliances to life again. The lights come on, the furnace begins blowing warm air, and the dishwasher cleans up the dirty dishes.

Business and organizational environments often mimic Michigan’s stormy weather, so leaders inevitably contend with emergencies. Sometimes it is the loss of a major grant, a physical plant crisis, or the resignation of a key staff member. Since the human service sector relies in large part on funding from state governments, there are constant concerns with cash flow and adequate financing that affect recruitment and retention of staff. Needless to say, leaders must address the problems or face the consequences, such as reducing available services or, in worst case scenarios, shutting their doors.

What then might constitute an emergency generator in these situations? Leaders, of course. Leaders must be the generators because they understand the vision and mission of their organizations. In addition, they are aware of the range of issues the organization faces and the potential consequences of sub-optimal outcomes. Given their knowledge and focus, leaders can assess possible challenges, explore causes and search for solutions—ahead of time. Wise leaders engage key team members, recognizing that they need a variety of perspectives to lay the groundwork and build solid plans of action.

Interestingly, a leader’s success depends in great part on his/her attitude and outlook. The person who looks only at obstacles will duck for cover and expect the worst because negativity clouds his/her vision so thoroughly that it affects the ability to see a way out of the emergency. So, when a crisis occurs, the leader or manager looks around for an emergency generator and cannot rely on his/her own skills and abilities. On the other hand, the one who focuses on the positive will see potential because he/she sees the landscape more clearly and discerns possibilities in spite of—and sometimes because of—difficulties.

An old story of two shoe salesmen illustrates the difference. Legend has it that a shoe company sent two salesmen in a foreign country to determine the market potential for their products. The first salesman traveled to the eastern coast to canvass the area. When he arrived, he stared in growing dismay at the people he met on the roads and in villages. They wore no shoes! Within days, he sent this message to headquarters: “No one wears shoes. There is no market for us here.”

The second salesman visited the western coast of the same country. As he traveled, he encountered much the same scenario; however, he became more and more excited as the days passed. His message to headquarters read, “No one here wears shoes! There is a huge market for us! Send inventory fast!”

I suggest that we leaders—the emergency generators—need to develop a positive focus because it influences our perspective and our choices. If we look for the positive, we will be able to see opportunities, generate enthusiasm among our team members and take action that successfully stabilizes and guides our organizations through the storms of life.