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It happens to all of us at least once.  We find ourselves struggling with something that used to be easy.  Or we think things are going great, and suddenly our best sales person takes a job at a competitor.  Or our latest, greatest product is months late to market and we can’t understand how to get things moving in the right direction again. Our direct reports are lining up outside our office to complain about each other, and low morale is at an all-time high.   We wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about what might go wrongWe’re smart, we’re tough, we work hard, then we work harder, but we feel we are always tripping and falling into the same hole in the sidewalk, or worse, our lives are skidding out of control on an icy road.

This isn’t a problem unique to the 21st Century.  I expect that more than one of those prehistoric cave paintings contain descriptions of how the tribe doesn’t seem to be working together well enough to bring home the mastodon, and that things just aren’t like they used to be.  But today’s business climate makes it tougher to weather these pockets of personal and professional turbulence.  The pace of innovation is now driving us, not the other way around, and we’re constantly being presented with problems that didn’t even exist six to twelve months ago, and scrambling to find the most effective solution.

And if that weren’t complicated enough, throw in a global pandemic and suddenly we have to completely rethink how we maintain business momentum.

Independent of industry, functional expertise, position in the organization, or life experience, there are some basic survival skills required when rapid change is the only constant.  These seven essentials will serve us well regardless of road conditions, and provide us with a framework for sustainable success.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll have a chance to learn more about the tools we can use to pull out of our effectiveness crisis, get back on our feet, and put the “A-ha!” back into our experience of life and work.

Survival Skill #1: Pay Attention!

In a volatile environment, we can’t afford to be on autopilot.  We need to explore options and stay informed.  It’s a temptation to move quickly through the initial discovery process when we feel we have to make a decision RIGHT NOW, but when we skimp on the comprehension phase, we’re likely to trip ourselves up further down the road.  It takes a lot less time to test the way in front of us to see if it is free of ice or steep drop-offs than it does to recover from a series of spectacular falls. Our task is to remain focused and alert, and to keep our eyes and ears open.

Perhaps most critical at this stage is active listening.  Question everyone’s assumptions, especially your own. Replay back what you think you heard.  Gain confirmation from your colleagues and your customers.  Make sure you not only heard the words being spoken, but actually received their meaning.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent too many meetings recovering from the misunderstandings people took away from the last one.  Not only was meeting time wasted, but also the effort expended on the wrong activities represented an opportunity lost.

Paradoxically, we often accomplish more by slowing down.  The world moves at video-game pace, accompanied by all the distractions of speed and multiplicity.  If we try all the options, and go down all the narrow alleyways to find our way to success, we will not only waste energy, we might find that the game times out before we reach our goal.  We need to slow down, prioritize, and create a robust strategy for moving forward. Wyatt Earp, famed US Marshall, was once asked to what he attributed his longevity as a gunfighter.  He said, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” In other words, it’s deliberation, not speed, that will bring us our greatest success.

Don’t forget to pay attention to yourself. You need to be clear-eyed about both your strengths and the areas where you need additional resources to be effective.  Individual awareness becomes a competitive edge when so much is resting on your ability to navigate, negotiate, decide and lead.  Leadership is more than being good at what you do, it also asks you to reflect and be perceptive about what the situation requires of you, and how you will best serve your organization.