We have all learned this past year that trying to predict the future is a highly risky endeavor. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Every January, the Executives’ Club of Chicago invites a panel of experts to help business leaders and investors navigate the coming year by predicting the major economic trends. Last January, for the most part, they didn’t do so great. But they were at it again recently.
Professionals don’t experience uncertainty in decision making — as an amateur, I “knew” this. Before I worked in a medical center, I thought medicine was an exact science: Doctors were trained to evaluate data and come up with precise diagnoses and treatments to benefit their patients. Before I went to business school, I thought all business leaders were quantitative experts: Executives were trained to crunch numbers and come up with clear-cut decisions to benefit their businesses.
Of course, neither proved to be true. Science is certainly the foundation of medicine, but much of what medical practitioners do is art, based on their intelligence, experience, and listening and communication skills. Similarly, much of what business leaders do is educated guesswork, based on their intelligence, experience, and listening and communication skills. Even my fellow student Hazim, the “quant” on our team, would usually start his guidance to us with the phrase, “We assume … ”
Don’t even try to forecast the future! If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this mind-boggling year, it’s that our ability to make accurate forecasts is highly unreliable. I remember several panels of experts last January making predictions about 2020: With the exception of possible uncertainty resulting from the presidential election, they were very positive about the prospects for this year.
‘Nuff said about that.
As a girl, the power to make myself invisible was a magic wish. It seemed so wonderful — to be able to sneak into places and do whatever I wanted without anyone noticing.
Then feeling ignored at work gave me a taste of invisibility, and I learned it actually isn’t so great.
The first time I remember feeling invisible at work was the winter of 2008-2009. I was working for a consulting firm, and part of my job in that miserable winter was to bring in new business. I did everything I could think of: I made phone calls, wrote newsletters, sent emails, developed marketing materials, and invited people for coffee or lunch or drinks. The response? Bupkes! Not just nothing, but the Yiddish word for “emphatically nothing.” I even found it difficult to elicit a response from my colleagues. It was profoundly demoralizing.
When I was first introduced to Zoom by my fellow executive coach, Jim Kelly, a few years ago, the concept of Zoom fatigue would have seemed laughable. At the time, I was just amazed at how well it enabled Jim and me to stay connected as professional colleagues and friends. I felt like part of an exclusive club — no one else I knew was using videoconferencing very much, let alone Zoom.
We can all picture the micromanager hovering over a cubicle wall. But what does the remote micromanager look like? And now that so many of us are working from home, is micromanagement a bigger problem or a smaller one that when we were all in the office?
If you read my blog regularly, you know I love finding a new word that has a special, unique meaning. I have written past columns about bricolage, JOMO, mentern, and sprezzatura. Today I have another discovery to share with you – “zozobra.” It is a Mexican Spanish word that means anxiety – anxiety of a specific kind.
I found the word in an article in the Chicago Tribune on November 3 by Francisco Gallegos and Carlos Alberto Sanchez. They explain that zozobra is the anxiety that results from being unable to settle into a single point of view. It is related to the Spanish verb “zozobrar,” which means to wobble or capsize. It is a feeling of instability, uncertainty, and unfamiliarity. It may result from finding that fundamental “truths” you depend on are not as solid as you thought.
I am invited to a lot of networking events with M&A (merger and acquisition) advisors, PE (private equity) investors, and other deal-making types. It’s a fascinating world, and I enjoy talking with people whose language, leadership style, and goals are often very different from mine. I am often the only management psychologist in the room. People are mildly interested and polite, but for the most part they don’t really “get” the kind of work I do or why they should care about it.
In a recent small meeting with a number of M&A advisors and PE folk, however, my experience was different. The topic was “What is going on and what is the outlook for your industry?” Each of us talked a little about the work we do and what was new, exciting, or challenging. To my surprise, after I spoke many of the others started asking me about my work and my observations of the leadership landscape in the current context. That had never happened before in a meeting like this.
Last March, when most of us were just starting to learn about COVID 19 and the world was shutting down, I asked a medical expert, “How long is this going to go on? When is life going to get back to normal?” She answered, “Probably late summer.” I was shocked and horrified. How on earth could we live in isolation that long? How would businesses survive? What would happen to family relationships, to our communities? I couldn’t imagine that the crisis could go on that long.
Yet here we are at the end of 2020, and there’s no sign of a return to normalcy. Sure, for many of us the isolation is not as strict as it was in those early months. But no one I know has a life that is in any way “normal.” I’m so tired of this. My clients are all tired of it. The whole world is tired. And once again, I’m asking, “When is life going to get back to normal?”
How would you like to be running a high-end wine production and distribution company about now? Think about it for a minute – there’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news is that sales at all your “on-site” customers – wineries and restaurants – have plummeted. The good news is that retail wine sales have risen. The challenge, as in every business right now, is how to make the most of an extraordinary situation.
I recently listened to Bill Terlato, the CEO of Terlato Wine Group, talk about the choices he and his leadership team made over the recent months to keep their company healthy. Although his advice was based on his industry, most of it was relevant for leaders across the board. So here’s my summary of Bill’s top ten pearls:
How do employees find out about opportunities in your company? Not just full-time jobs, but also opportunities to participate in projects, find a mentor, engage in networking, or learn something new? How do leaders learn about employees’ skills, aspirations, and passions?
In most companies, the answer is – it’s difficult. Often, employees have access only to the opportunities their managers know about and are willing to share with them. And equally often, leaders have many demands on their time with few opportunities to really get to know their people.
Prior to 1990, when scientists wanted to directly observe how the brain works, they had to open up people’s skulls and attach electrodes to their brains. Guess what – it was really hard to find people to sign up for that kind of experimentation. So a lot of what we “knew” about how the brain functioned was guesswork. Then in 1990, the invention of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) made it possible for scientists to study how the brain works while leaving people’s skulls intact. The field of neuropsychology exploded and has become one of the most exciting, fast-paced areas of science.
The calls for organizational innovation always intensify during a crisis. Sure, many leadership qualities and behaviors are in high demand right now, including the ability to handle your own and others’ emotions, the skill to set clear expectations and hold people accountable, and the gumption to make the tough calls. But the one trait I hear asked for most often is the ability to innovate — to think about problems in new ways and move swiftly to create novel solutions.
Innovative ingenuity is an individual skill. But it is powerfully affected by organizational culture. Many companies are very effective at squashing innovation, often unintentionally. How often have you heard leaders respond to a new idea with, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work?” Or watched as new ideas were ignored, dismissed, or even stolen. And then leaders wonder why their team members aren’t frequently bringing them bold, creative ideas.