Companies & Industries

Dispel Defeatism


Defeatism is truly the absence of hope and indicates that the system is broken. Don't let it destroy your team's morale

Posted on Leadership at Work: January 30, 2009 11:38 AM

A colleague of mine sent me an email commenting on how "deflated" her clients were feeling. In a subsequent conversation, she noted that clients were expressing feelings of "dismay, disappointment, and discouragement." The global recession provokes the feeling that we are living in the era of the "d-words," including the worst one—defeat.

Defeatism is truly the absence of hope. It indicates that the system is broken. Giving up the ghost is a real option, but if you are a manager in a declining business or even a flat lining one, defeatism can be used as a precursor to regeneration. Rather than thinking that all is lost, add the caveat, "if we keep doing what we are doing." That sets the stage for those who want to move forward. Here's how:

Bury the dead. Reality demands facing the truth. Quite simply it is the acknowledgement that what we do is not enough. We may have been rolling in the good times, but now our customers cannot afford what we offer, or discover they can do without. Find out the truth and accept it. At the same time, make time to close the chapter. Remember the good things, as well as the good contributors. Mourn what you have lost.

Resolve to continue. You have a choice. Push out or push on. You can argue for both, but if you decide to go on, you need to resolve to think positively. A colleague of mine, Kathy Macdonald, argues that managers must give their people the "illusion of reality." What Macdonald means by that is managers must often take things into their own hands. They cannot always wait for direction from on high. Therefore, in the absence of direction, move forward. Make things happen that are consistent with organizational vision and mission.

Think anew. Because things are so dire, it is time to do things differently. Nothing should be reserved from scrutiny. Consider every step of every operation to think about how to do it more effectively and efficiently. Cost-cutting is not the answer; re-engineering value is. That starts with the way you manage. Discover ways to do things differently. For some, it may mean fewer meetings and fewer reports. It may mean shifting roles and responsibilities. Give younger employees more responsibilities. Assign veteran employees more developmental assignments that prepare the next generation to lead. Every organization will need to discover its own ways to re-think its management principles.

Cold hard reality teaches that you cannot typically think yourself out of a black hole. Some sectors of business simply will not resume their prior degree of profitability. More jobs will be lost before there is any more hiring. Taking control of your destiny is essential to financial and personal well-being. Some may take early retirement. Others may need to find new jobs. Many more others will need to acquire new skills to find new job opportunities. Nothing is easy right now, but acceptance of reality is essential.

Defeatism is such an ugly word, but it is one that must be acknowledged. Sometimes it can be dispelled, but all too often in our current economy downturn, it seems as "right as rain." For so many, it will get worse before it gets better. But to surrender to the darkness is seldom an option, at least not for an entrepreneurial-minded business culture that is founded on innovation and fueled by success.

What ideas do you have for dealing with discouragement and defeatism in your workplace?

Provided by Harvard Business—Where Leaders Get Their Edge

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