It happens all the time in business and in life. Something _______ (fill in your negative adjective) happens with any of your key stakeholders and you develop the best way to handle the situation. You encounter what I call The Dust Storm.
The Dust Storm is a dangerous cross-roads moment all leaders and business people encounter.
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You know you’re in a dust storm when you hear a version of the following from your confidants:
“Let’s wait for the dust to settle, then we’ll deal with it….”
“This too shall pass…..”
“It will blow over; just give it time…..”
The gist of the advice in the middle of a dust storm (i.e. “the problem”) is that TIME will take care of the situation, and what’s murky now will soon clear when the winds carry away the dust. OR if time will not carry away the dust, it buys you time to let it settle while you develop the plan to deal with the aftermath.
Every situation is unique and requires clear thinking. Acting IMPULSIVELY rarely produces the best outcome. It’s amazing what 48 hours of separation (a weekend) can do away from the dust storm to improve your clarity. Beyond 48 hours, there is a chance you are playing with fire and taking the first course of action that is present in all problem situations: “DO NOTHING.”
Here’s the dangerous part:
When you consciously choose to WAIT to solve a problem, it rarely solves itself. In fact, it often gets worse with the passing of time. The more time put between the event/problem and the solution has an inverse relationship to a successful outcome. The longer you wait, the more surprised people are when you confront the situation, and low and behold you just created another (unintended) Dust Storm: “Why are we having this conversation NOW?”
Below are some basic functional examples that are common. Ask yourself if the Dust Storm approach is better, or one that is more intentional. Yes, a loaded, rhetorical example to illustrate the point.
- Management: The “rough” performance review that needs to be given, below expectation performance. Wait until the review to give your first, thorough accounting of the negative review, vs frequent candid sessions throughout the year.
- Sales/Business Development: A major customer sales call that turned a negative corner, for whatever reason. Hope you can manage through it and repair the damage vs. bringing it forward to management real time.
- Team Relationships: Interpersonal conflicts among key team members. Bury the conflict, don’t address it directly or talk behind the person’s back to try and cope.
- Finance/Accounting: A potential “Lapse” in ethical standards or something observed that does not feel right. Aggressive expense reports (padding), letting customer returns go through without raising the hand and communicating to someone other than sales, product costing that does not seem accurate….
- Executive Leadership: When company cherished “values” are brought into question by those OUTSIDE of the executive team. “Do they really mean it?”
If doing nothing produces the best outcome, then Dust Storm need not be feared. If it is NOT the best course of action, you are fighting against Time, life’s great equalizer.
Ask yourself If putting MORE time in between the major problem and confronting it will help or hurt your chances for a successful outcome. Then, make an intentional, deliberate choice.
Intentional choices keep you off your heels.