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Happy Labor Day – Sort Of…

This Labor Day we’ve got some mighty stagnant job numbers – in fact we’ve got a big fat ZERO in job growth. Unemployment is holding steady at 9.1%.

While of course we’ve got an easy way to complain about this by blaming our politicians, it’s time to face up to what each of us do to make this problem worse.

We’ve got to watch out for “fight, flight and freeze” behaviors from ourselves as business leaders – even though we have a lot to worry about.  As a recent New York Times article described it, “A wave of worry threatens to build on itself”. We can’t afford to let fear dictate our decisions, or our big-picture economic situation will get worse instead of better.

From where I sit, in many organizations we’re starting to see less transparency and more defensiveness from leaders, leading to higher anxiety and lower productivity among employees.  This fear can also enter into hiring.  Many companies she sees are sitting on cash, are burning out their top people by doing more with less, but do not hire, leading to more anxiety and stress related illness and productivity dips.  The end result is less productivity, less focus on the customer and on the organization, and a striking lack of innovation. In February it was estimated that U.S. companies were sitting on almost 2 trillion dollars in cash reserves, a good part of which could be used to invest or hire.

Those who are lucky enough to be employed are fearful about losing their jobs – and as a result are working overtime, over-extending themselves, and competing with colleagues to prove they are worth it; all leading to  higher burn out, and a higher rate of disgruntled employees (“exiting employees are more disgruntled than ever” WSJ 8/8/11).

Leaders who operate from fear make some major mistakes, including de-motivating their teams, competing internally rather than externally, squelching innovation and reducing risk so much that growth is stalled.

Remember the four practices to facing down fear and getting to a place of “Unfear” —  a term meaning confidence in one’s ability to overcome the odds, and to create a positive outcome no matter what the circumstance.

We all need to activate UNFEAR and shift people toward taking action with hope and purpose: 1) Accepting what is and focusing on the future, 2) Building relationships and community, 3) Viewing challenges as opportunities, 4) Practicing physical and mental discipline.

So if you find yourself in the position of making some tough calls in your business in the coming quarter, think about how your actions will impact the big picture. How are you helping the economy to grow through your organizational decisions? Are you opting to get people innovating? If so, it takes time, big-picture thinking, and getting out of “firefighting” mode. More on innovation next time! Stay tuned for more Good Business…

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