When The Chips Are Down

Sometimes you are the captain of a sinking ship. Or at least a damaged one. Things are looking grim, and the grim people are looking at you. How do you keep everyone looking upward and onward?

Here are the three things I like to remember:

  1. Small victories matter, and so does gratitude for them. When nearly everything is going poorly, gaining even a single yard of territory is a huge deal. You need to let people know that without qualifying it. Don’t say, “well, at least we got that, so good job I guess.” Cheer for your people like there’s no tomorrow. There might not be.
  2. Roll up your sleeves and contribute. If the ship is sinking, people will listen to just about anything you say if you say it while bailing water yourself. There are tasks that simply don’t make sense for you to do in the times of plenty, but in the lean times, anything can serve the purpose of putting you where your people need you – in their hearts.
  3. Don’t Panic. Advice so good it spawned a sci-fi empire (and earned a permanent spot as a tattoo on yours truly). Exigent circumstances don’t change what actions are valuable. Adapt as much as you need to, and not an inch more – 95% of what you normally do is still as good as it ever was. Keep people at their normal tasks, take the time to remind them why those work, and don’t suddenly get frenetic with your oversight. If you’re responding to an emergency by micromanaging or making drastic and untested changes, you’re spiraling.

Look for each little win, fight for them yourself, and don’t panic while you do it. Every dark patch can be beaten with this.

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