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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Turnaround Leaders

I loved Crayola Crayons as a kid.

My Grandmother would always take me with her when she did her weekly grocery shopping at the small supermarket in Kentucky, and the weekly ritual of what we would get for me (and hide from my Mom) was something we shared many a Thursday. One of my favorite items was always Crayola Crayons, especially the ones with as many different colors as was possible. I think at that time, the biggest box had 64 different colors. What thrilled me about it was the variety and diversity that it allowed me to access when working on a picture.

Leadership is much the same. Leaders come in a lot of different varieties, temperments, motivations, talents and skills. It’s always a matter of what style is needed for which situation. Some leaders have different “gears” they can shift into based on the situation or desired outcome. Some only have one gear, and are best suited for that particular framework.

General George Marshall was a leader who masterminded the rebuilding of Europe after World War Two, went on to become Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. He was born on New Year’s Eve, 1880 and it’s only fitting he came into the world at edge of a transition from one year to the next as one of his greatest accomplishments would come during one of the world’s greatest transitionary periods.

Two problems initially confronted Marshall and his team.

1. Food: The average calorie intake for the average German was 1,800

2. Fuel: No coal for heating, thousands died in their homes during the brutal winters of 1945-1947

In addition, the political climate was particularly tense with the pressure of the presence of the Soviet Union and conflicting geo-political moves being made. Europe was against the wall and had to act with a unity not seen in prior world events.

George Marshall had to get multiple stakeholders to pull together who had a variety of self-interests and fears. In a bold move, Marshall chose to exclude not only the Soviet Union from introducing and implementing the plan, but our close wartime ally, Great Britain as well. Marshall knew that in a real crisis, one voice had to be strong and heard above all to move things in the right direction, even at the exclusion of where the credit would be placed, and also the blame, if the plan failed. This plan would be totally American.

Marshall’s steps to stop the decline and rebuild:

1. He made himself and his nation totally responsible for the success and/or failure of the plan

2. He held Europe totally accountable for thinking for themselves and how the plan’s resources would be implemented therefore instead of “catching fish” he “taught to fish” and got buy-in.

3. He took responsibility for selling the plan to his superiors and peers. He had to sell this notion to his accountability partners. He believed and through that belief, he got others to believe. A great leadership trait!

4. He made sure the timing of all his steps were perfect and in alignment with the outcome. You’ve heard timing is everything. Coordination of this worldwide rebuilding plan was massive.

5. He chose a few positive, capable people for his inner circle and kept the circle tight. All decisions and communications of those decisions to other stakeholders was critical. Marshall had the trusted people who could advise and/or disagree based on solid input for the desried outcome without personal agenda.

6. He chose the correct platform to unveil his plan. Marshall’s speech at Harvard University was one of the great moments in American history. The speech contains no specific tactical details on how the plan would be achieved, but focuses on the more important element of why the plan should be implemented.

At the time, perhaps no other American, not even Harry Truman was as respected as George Marshall, his plan for Europe saved countless lives, made possible the economic recovery of Europe and was one of the most effective weapons America ever for to combat Communism through it’s selfless actions to help human beings.

10 Things Rebuilding Leaders Must Be Able To Do:

1. Recognize the Sandbox. Correctly analyze and profile the seriousness of the situation, be able to strike to the heart of the issue and cut to the chase quickly.

2. Take bold action. Stop the bleeding and death process immediately

3. Take the full load of accountability and responsibility. You need to possess the straight-forward attitude and will to reverse the situation and achieve a bigger and better outcome than before

4. Assemble a very close, tight group of leaders. These are the people you believe in who can be trusted to drive for the desired outcome and not veer from it until it’s achieved

5. Be able to sell the vision with authenticity and hope for the future. Pick the right platform and use the right language. Always focus on and sell WHY and challenege your team to innovate and come up with HOW. You must possess the ability to be a cause-oriented leader that burns with purpose and passion. Being on-fire to get all the stakeholders to buy-in and catch fire with you for the same cause and purpose

6. Assign accountability roles. Make other leaders “do some fishing” to achieve areas of success to “force multiply” toward the desired outcome while teaching and training them with the skills to move smarter and faster. Don’t be the “savior”, be the leader!

7. Live the plan and monitor the progress daily as if everyone’s lives depend on it. New direction makes everything new again and a more frequent string of “wins” makes every team happier

8. Know when to switch gears from “rebuilder” to “stabilizer”. It’s a different gear and a different set of skills. Have these benchmarks built into the plan so everyone knows where the switch is to happen.

9. Enjoy the turnaround process. Everyone is going through an emotional process they will remember the rest of their lives. There’s hardly an emotional event that occurs that sticks with you like working together with a team to accomplish something great. Many veterans of World War Two had maintained the relationships they formed during the war due to the teamwork and memories which were created during the struggle.

10. Mark your trail and celebrate every victory. Keep note of what happened and how it happened. Brag loudly and proudly affirm your team! Approval and affirmation are rocket fuel for winning. You never know when you’ll be asked to do this again. Many leaders are turnaround specialists and have been down this road a lot of times before. Retention of these skills sets you apart and cause people to look to you when they need a miracle.

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