Today's Challenge: Leading a Turnaround

Leadership challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Think about your career – if you’ve been leading long, you’ve probably encountered people issues, organizational issues, startup opportunities, and one of my favorites – the turnaround. Today’s Challenge: Are different leadership skills needed to orchestrate a turnaround?
The short answer is yes and no. Let’s address the “no” first… What’s needed for a turnaround is leadership. However, all leaders have different strengths. Therefore, to excel at turnarounds, yes, I believe leaders need some specific attributes to thrive in turnaround situations. Here are a few of them…
Assess quickly. I interviewed a leader once who pointed out several personnel concerns based on his brief interaction with the staff. I was asked by someone in the process, “How did he know?” He “knew” because he was a leader with extensive turnaround experience. The slow and cautious leader will likely struggle in a turnaround situation.
Make hard decisions. If a leader is not able to make hard decisions, he or she is probably not the leader to lead a turnaround. Past decisions have created the situation the new leader is inheriting. To continue in the direction the previous leader established is probably a bad idea. My favorite resource on this topic is Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings. I wrote a post about it entitled, When Less is More. Every leader should read Henry's book – repeatedly.
Move decisively. Action is key to a turnaround. To continue to do the same things and expect a different outcome is a good working definition for insanity. The leader in need of a turnaround cannot wait for all the data (you will never have all the data). The leader must have enough confidence in his or her instincts to move. When an organization is in crisis, it requires a confident leader to make the call and generate movement.
Create quick wins. Organizations in trouble often lack energy and confidence. Nothing builds momentum better than wins – even small ones. The leader gifted for turnarounds knows small, quick wins can often serve as a catalyst for success. Can you identify and deliver quick wins?
Understand turnaround dynamics. I’ve written about this before in my post, How to Lead a Turnaround. Several years ago, I had the privilege to study at the Harvard Business School. It was a grueling and enriching experience. Although I learned many valuable leadership lessons, one of the most profound was the idea that turnarounds rarely fail for lack of a solid operational plan. Those who fail do so because the leader really doesn’t understand the dynamics of turnarounds. What is often missing is a communications plan to accompany the operational plan. Leaders who don’t understand this, will struggle, or fail, when a turnaround is required.
If you find yourself faced with a turnaround opportunity, congratulations! (Unless you created the problems you face). Every team or organization in need of a turnaround is a cry for leadership. Every turnaround is an opportunity for you to shine![GLS_Shield]
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8 years ago

mark - I work with non-profits many of whom need a turnaround. And, while the 'leader' may indeed desire such, that leader serves with a 'board,' with 'volunteers ' (many of whom have owned their role for decades), with entrenched policies, thru layered permission-granting structures, etc. your post here seems spot on for a business. What (if anything) would you see differently in a volunteer driven non-profit?


8 years ago

Great question! It deserves more than i can adequately write in this comment box. However, I'll share one question here and then I promise to write more about working with boards in the weeks to come. Here's my question: Who selects the board? That is probably a key point of leverage for you. I do have other thoughts I'll share later. Thanks for joining the conversation. Keep leading!! Mark


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