During the global economic crisis, I was an observer, not a victim. I learned a great deal from being a spectator at a play about leadership, with the economic crisis as the backdrop.
When the crisis hit I was developing my own leadership style. From my first day as a military engineer, I was persuading people of different backgrounds, ages, and cultures to implement my managerial and technical solutions, not sitting alone in front of a computer. I quickly learned that to lead I needed confidence; learning about the situation before acting, “reading the market”, gave me that confidence. The more successes I accumulated, the more confident I become. I had not yet learned about the fine line where confidence takes on the prefix “over”, and becomes dangerous.
During the crisis, I purchased equipment from two family businesses – “Seller & Son”, an importer of leading manufacturers, and “Maker & Son”, a local manufacturer of similar equipment. “Seller & Son’s” business prospered during the crisis, adding an extra workday to keep up with demand. “Maker & Son” survived only as a component supplier, losing the basis of its reputation, its identity as a manufacturer.
Working during the global crisis with both of the leaders, and people who knew them for decades, clarified for me that making the effort to understand the situation, reading the market, is an essential part of leadership.
“Maker & Son” was established in the sixties. Emphasizing technologies and successfully selling systems for decades, its leader felt he didn’t need to focus on service. When customer concerns shifted, “Seller & Son” did its research, “read the market” and offered responsive service. “Maker & Son”, outwardly confident, did nothing to keep its market share. During the crisis it continued to have long response times, forcing clients to find solutions for themselves. “Seller & Son” was always willing to help without looking for an immediate profit, welcoming clients’ problems and providing immediate solutions. Those customers that still had the resources to buy during the crisis voted, with their wallets, for the company providing service.
During my latest project, I made the same mistake, while deciding which Sections would be responsible for the safety testing of newly purchased equipment.
I divided the responsibility between two units, without doing the research to find out who already had the necessary expertise. I re-invented the wheel with the new distribution. Only my reputation and good relationships with those involved in the project saved the new wheel from breaking because of the bumps in the road, the internal conflicts, I accidentally created.
Struggling to keep my new wheel turning, I remembered “Seller” and “Maker” during the crisis. As “Maker” had done, I assumed instead of checking. I was paying for the over-confidence borne of my past successes. When I admitted my mistake, the road became smoother. Now as I lead, I know that asking the right questions can help you succeed during hard times. It will not harm a leader’s image; it is over-confidence that can ruin it.