President-Elect Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, recently said: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." Emanuel--using a phrase of which Tom Friedman (no relation) is also fond (he heard it from economist Paul Romer)--was talking about how governments must take advantage of our current economic crisis. But the same idea applies to each of us, as individuals and as business leaders.
Do not waste this crisis.
What's the opportunity inherent in the crushing economic news that is pounding us day in, day out? In my travels I'm discovering that more and more people are committed to finding new and meaningful ways to clarify what matters most, respect the ones about whom they care deeply in the different parts of their lives, and experiment with creative ways to enrich lives; to pursue what, in Total Leadership, I call four way wins: improved performance at work, at home, in the community and for the private self (mind, body, and spirit).
An economic world turned upside down makes it easier to take a fresh look, and this can open the door to making changes that will benefit you and the most important people in your life, now and in the long run. Here's what one of my former students, Deika Morrison, said to me yesterday when I asked her about the leadership silver lining in the cloud of our current economic crisis. She said that this is a unique opportunity to see "if you are achieving what you have identified as important. In an environment of record unemployment, people feel like they are not empowered and have no options." Now, she said, is a chance to discover that "you might have been doing work you really never wanted long-term and therefore you can move on faster, in a more productive manner. It's about changing mindset from depression, in every sense of the word, to opportunity."
The crisis, in other words, can make it easier to experiment with new mental models or attitudes about your career and how it fits with your life's purpose, and it can serve as a catalyst for your own reinvention, as a leader in all parts of your life. This can take the form of a very small step, such as the one I'm taking with my immediate family (that is, my wife and three children-ages 21, 18, and 15) as we, for the first time in a long time, will spend time just the five of us, alone together.
What opportunities for trying something new occur to you in light of the current economic crisis?