Early in my career I went to work one morning and learned that I suddenly had 83 people reporting to me. I was 30.
I would like to say I handled my surge of responsibility perfectly, but that wouldn’t be true. Looking back, the only thing I am certain of is I did my best. I had to. A week earlier the CEO who was acquiring our company came in my office and said, “If you don’t sign an employment contract, we don’t buy the company.” Ugh. Somewhat reluctantly, I signed the contract and sent myself cascading into the uncharted waters of leading a lot of people.
I have never been much of a reader, but that night I rushed out and bought the book, Thriving on Chaos – A Handbook for a Management Revolution by Tom Peters. The book was brilliant. I plowed through it in no time flat. However, in the end, it taught me little. Why? Because, smart as Tom Peters was, he didn’t know me. The only person who knew me, was me. The only true way to lead is to be yourself.
Leadership is about creating, setting and articulating a vision. Leadership is about turning your vision into a shared vision, one that people will enthusiastically follow. Leadership is about making decisions, sometimes very difficult decisions.
What I learned that year, after a couple of tough decisions, was a rule I call T-T-B. Now in my fifties, I still use TTB, short for take two breaths before making a decision. It is amazing how much thinking you can do in the span of taking two breaths (try it). The more you think, the better decisions you make. Simple.
In this crazy time, we owe it to ourselves and others to do even more than TTB. We’re making decisions about working from home, returning to work, curbside take-out, delivery, social distancing and other weighty items caused by the virus. None of us should have to face decisions like these, ever, but as leaders we must rise to this challenge. That’s what leaders do. We make decisions.
I’ve watched with great admiration as my wife Annette has led her newly opened West End Diner through this crisis. She is level headed. She thinks things through. She makes hard, thoughtful decisions at a time when she could have run for the hills. Can you imagine opening a restaurant just before the time of COVID? She knows the gravity of the situation and she’s handling it with grace, wisdom and a lot of heart.