Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How A Leader Deals With Moments OF Existential Crisis


Jay Myers didn't start his video conference technology company Interactive Solutions, Inc. in 1996 thinking it would be easy. But he also didn't imagine getting to the point a few years ago when he’d be reeling from so many crises that he’d be scared to turn off the lights at night in his bedroom.

A gloomy pattern had emerged for Myers. Hit the lights. Crawl under the sheets for a few hours’ sleep. The shuteye meant it’s much closer to a new day, when fresh chunks of sky would fall, and more bad news would land atop the pile he thought had already stretched him to his limit.
All at once, a handful of sales and customer service representatives at the Memphis-based company he founded resigned, which simultaneously threatened to vaporize a big piece of the company’s income if Myers didn't do something about it.
“You feel almost traumatized,” Myers says. “I was feeling kind of lost at first and had to gather myself. Thinking about this leadership-wise, though, the one thing we didn't do is we didn't panic.”
Also around that time, a technician at ISI went into the hospital for a liver transplant--and never left. While changing shirts so he could attend the funeral of a close friend, Myers got a call from one of his managers warning him the technician had taken a turn for the worse. He’d soon be attending two back-to-back funerals.
If that wasn't enough, doctors diagnosed Myers’s wife Maureen with breast cancer around the same time. In addition, the Great Recession was gearing up to tear a big hole in the balance sheets of companies like his.

"When is all this bad stuff going to end?" Myers remembers thinking. "How much can one person take?"
Uncertainty is part of a start up founder or small-business owner's career path. That uncertainty includes crises; everything from typical ups and downs to dangers more existential. This is when one wrong move--such as a big customer departure, or just a run of bad breaks like Myers experienced--can make it seem like an untimely end is in sight.

Entrepreneurs say these experiences have taught them a variety of lessons about leading in a crisis.
The departures en masse at ISI left Myers stuck with many challenges to grapple with, including how to replace several million dollars in annual sales revenue that had basically walked out the door.
His immediate battle plan: 
·         Don’t waste time
·         Reevaluate business strategy
·         Figure out what resources are on hand
·         Immediately get to work squeezing the most out of them.

Myers recalls ISI had hired some younger sales professionals, so the way forward partly involved giving them “a good pep talk and intense training,” and bringing them up to speed--fast.

“I grabbed some sales accounts, too,” he says. “I improvised. Engineers pitched in to fill the gaps. People can look at a crisis, and panic and fall apart. We said: ‘Let’s look at this as a clean slate.’”

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