A young man called me recently in a bit of a panic. His company had just announced that they were “right-sizing,” an un-clever way of saying they were laying people off. They were also instituting a hiring freeze. He was also told his supervisor’s supervisor was laid off, effective immediately.
His supervisor was very negative about the situation, predicting that he was next to go, the workload was going to double with his boss gone, this was just the first round of cuts, all of the usual gloom and doom.
The young man on the phone was wondering what he should do. Should he start looking for another job? Should he complain to someone about the impending workload increase? Here’s what I told him.
First of all, distance yourself from the negativity. Do what you can to NOT be seen as part of the group with the negative attitude (unless you want to be tagged for the next round of layoffs).
Second, be on the lookout for opportunities. When there are layoffs, hiring freezes, etc., the senior leaders may be scrambling to figure out how they’re going to do more with less. This may require combining roles and creating new, creative positions in the organization. They also have to figure out who’s going to fill them. And you can be sure they’re looking around at those they kept on the team. Do you think they’re going to be interested in the folks walking around with negative attitudes?
In rough times, senior leaders are looking across their organizations for the people with the most leadership potential to help them lead the organization through the difficulties. This is the time to demonstrate a constructive attitude by asking, “How can I help,” everywhere you go, with everyone you meet.
This is NOT the time to participate in urinating contests over petty issues with people in other departments. There may be opportunities their bosses are looking for leaders to fill in their departments too. And they’re looking for team players.
Even when we’re the one being laid off, people are watching to see whether we handle the situation with dignity and respect, or whether adversity will show something else about our character. And your supervisors will often have an influence on your future job opportunities. I wrestled with this one myself a few years ago when I was laid off from a job that I loved. Months later, a board member told me, “In my thirty five-year career, I’ve never seen someone handle being let go with as much dignity as you have.” He’s still a friend and advocate for me to this day.
After my phone conversation with the young man, I had another thought. Isn’t positivity the attitude that great leaders carry with them every day? Why would we wait for difficulties before we start having a “How can I help” attitude?
I’m not saying we should be phony about scary work situations. Layoffs are a scary deal, and it’s hard to watch good people lose their jobs. But if we’re consistently having trouble keeping a positive attitude, even in the scary times, we should do some soul searching about why that is. Leaders who sustain greatness, as well as success, over the long haul give much more than they take. They look around for opportunities to use their talents and energy to move the organization forward, during the good times and the bad, no matter where they are on the org chart.
1. What kind of attitude are you modeling in your work place? Are you looking for opportunities to help your leaders and co-workers, or are you doing the minimum to get by?
2. During the hard times, are you one to roll up your sleeves and offer help in solving problems, or do you highlight yourself as part of the problem by complaining?
Jay Pullins has been leading and developing leaders in a variety of settings for over 30 years. He has a diverse background as a leadership coach, military officer, an appointed state official, and executive leader of Alaska's largest church. Jay has trained over 1,400 leaders in the last five years, from Alaska to Southern California, in various fields from universities to military, construction, product distribution, manufacturing, telecommunications, churches, banks, casinos, and a railroad.