Hunker Down or Get Out There?

Posted 07.22.2008

Economic woes making you feel like you have to hunker down?

My colleague John Baldoni recently offered an interesting post on how a tough economy can cause leaders to operate from a position of fear rather than strength. The "all over the place" performance of the financial markets is just a macro example of what’s going on. Bad news leads to rumors which lead to more bad news which leads to retrenchment and hunkering down. (For an interesting take on the psychology of a down market and how to survive it, check out this column from The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Zweig.)

As usual, John has some great insights and tips for leaders, including focusing on the work as an antidote to letting your mind run wild with worst case scenarios. I definitely agree with this advice and would add a bit more to it. In a stressful, fear-inducing environment, a lot of people have the tendency to put their heads down and tell themselves, "If I just do good work, the work will speak for itself." My response is, "No, the work doesn’t speak for itself, you have to speak for the work."

I don’t mean that you should be jumping up on the nearest table and shouting about all your wonderful accomplishments. What I do mean is that you need to get yourself out there and talk with your bosses, your board, your customers, your employees, your suppliers and any other key stakeholder about the context of what’s going on and what you and your team are doing to address it. While you’re at it, ask them what they think about the context and what else would help. In an era of information overload (especially when so much of the overload is bad news), people are too busy to sort the wheat from the chaff. You have to help them do that in a way that is relevant and helpful to them in accomplishing their goals.

My advice? Don’t hunker down. Get out there!