You Can’t Succeed by Hiding Under the Desk

For me, the phrase “hiding under the desk” triggers memories of the air raid drills conducted regularly during the Cold War era when I was in elementary school. When the alarm sounded, we dutifully scrambled under our desks and covered our heads with our arms. Presumably this would protect us in the event that the Russians started bombing our small town. Since trusted adults assured us we would be safe, we were confident we would emerge unscathed when the “all clear” was sounded.

The “kids” from the Cold War era now are adults who are faced with serious challenges that threaten their economic viability. What do many of them do? They hide under their metaphorical desks, hoping to find safety and comfort there until the danger passes, at which time they will resume business as usual.

This is not going to happen. Not only was hiding under the desk useless back in elementary school, but doing so now is downright dangerous for individuals and organizations. It gives us a false sense of security that we cannot afford. And for those waiting for the “all clear” signal, I’ve got bad news: it’s not going to come. We now live in a state of constant “white water” – i.e., while it once was common to experience long periods of relative serenity, calm, and stability, the river of life now consists of churning waters moving swiftly downstream, carrying everyone and everything with it, ready or not. Just as most of us require an experienced guide to lead us safely through treacherous waters, organizations cannot thrive if their leaders and employees are hiding under the desk.

One characteristic that separates organizations that thrive from those that merely survive is healthy self-esteem. That is, they have an innate sense of their worth – who they are rather than what they do. As a group, members of successful enterprises are confident and able to keep things in perspective. In contrast, employees of organizations that are in survival mode are likely to be hiding under their desks, suffering under the weight of their collective low self-esteem.

There are a number of obstacles to achieving high organizational self-esteem, such as fear, habit (“We’ve always done it this way”), unwillingness to move out of one’s comfort zone, political correctness, and failure to confront toxic behavior. No wonder people hide! The question is, how can organizations increase their self-esteem and, in so doing, get their leaders and employees out from under their desks? Here are six suggestions to get you started:

1. Focus on things you can control. Be equally clear about the things you cannot control.

2. Choose to seek the opportunities in any given situation rather than the negatives. That choice will color your thoughts, beliefs, actions – and ultimately, your quality of life and your organization’s well-being.

3. Direct organizational resources to improving individual and collective strengths and to helping employees develop the skills they need to be successful.

4. Expect people to fail once in a while. View failures as learning opportunities.

5. Celebrate both “who we are” (i.e., the organization) and individual and collective successes and milestones.

6. Ensure your managers lead by example. Organizational self-esteem has everything to do with how leaders present themselves. Especially in challenging times, they must exhibit confidence, reassurance, and sincerity.

What does your organization do to entice people to come out from under their desks? I invite you to share your positive stories with us.

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “You Can’t Succeed by Hiding Under the Desk”

  1. Sheila says:

    Great article and so true! It now takes courage to lead because we can not see the road ahead!

  2. Pat Lynch says:

    I agree: it does take courage to lead. I think these times challenge people to make choices, which in terms of your analogy are to pick a road and see where it takes you, or sit by the side and watch others as they go by.

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