#026: How to Lead in Turbulent Times [Podcast]

It’s no secret that the last four or five years have been challenging from an economic, technological, and global perspective. In this episode, I discuss five actions leaders must take in order to lead well in turbulent times.

A Ship on a Turbulent Sea

When I speak publicly on this topic, I call this presentation, “Shift: Leading in Turbulent Times.” I use the word “shift” for two reasons:

  1. The world seems to be shifting under our feet.
  2. We must also shift if we are going to lead well.

Click to Listen


While I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson (2005–2011), we experienced three significant changes:

  1. Change #1: The Great Recession
  2. Change #2: The Digital Revolution
  3. Change #3: The Social Media Revolution

Your industry has probably gone through massive change as well. Over the last few months, I have spoken to a variety of groups representing several different industries:

  • The Telecommunications Industry has gone through a massive shift to smart phones and wireless communications.
  • The Mortgage Industry has gone through a massive shift in federal regulation and lending practices.
  • The Media Industry has gone through a massive shift to digital delivery and direct-to-consumer marketing.

And, of course, the phenomenon of social media has impacted every industry. And, if that weren’t enough, you are probably experiencing massive change in your own life.

  • Maybe you’re going through a tough time in your marriage or dealing with the aftermath of a divorce or even the death of a spouse.
  • Maybe you’ve been laid off and are struggling to find work. Perhaps you are under-employed or just launching a business.
  • Maybe you had a health crisis and are dealing with the impact on your family and career.

Or maybe it’s not quite so massive but still change—perhaps you are newly married, just had a baby, or received a promotion. Regardless, we are living in a world of unprecedented change. To lead well in this kind of environment, you must take five specific actions.

  1. Action #1: Shift your perception. You must acknowledge reality. This is the new normal. We’re not going back. At the same time, you must remain confident that you will ultimately prevail. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to this as “The Stockdale Paradox.”
  2. Action #2: Shift your intention. You can’t resist change; you must embrace it. This means taking the initiative—going first—and leaning into it. How you approach change as a leader will determine how your organization approaches it.
  3. Action #3: Shift your direction. In turbulent times, it is easy to lose your vision. You just stop talking about the future. However, your people need to know there is a future and their actions matter.
  4. Action #4: Shift your acceleration. You must recover a sense of urgency. Your responsiveness can be a competitive advantage, particularly if you are a small organization with big competitors.
  5. Action #5: Shift your allocation. Unlike the federal government, you can’t fund new programs without defunding old ones. You have to shift your resources away from unprofitable programs to profitable ones.

Real leaders thrive in turbulent times. They come alive. Why? Because it requires them to grow. They discover abilities and resources they never knew they had.

Listener Questions

  1. Tom Eggebrecht asked, ”How do you lead people who don’t want to be led?”
  2. John Bergquist asked, “How do you handle the stress of change in a healthy way?”
  3. DJ Wade-O asked, “How do you deal with change in an organization when you don’t agree with it?”
  4. Dean Brown asked, “How do you manage well at work when your personal life is rapidly changing and things seem overwhelming?”

Special Announcements

  1. I am excited to announce the publication of my brand new audio course entitled, “Everything You Need to Know to Get Published.” If you have ever thought about writing a book (or even if you have written a book) this course is for you.

    In 21 audio sessions, I cover everything I have learned about publishing in my thirty-plus years in the industry as a publisher, former literary agent, and two-time New York Times bestselling author.

    This week, I am offering a special 50% discount to my blog readers and podcast listeners. But, you must order before 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night, September 30, 2012. I’ll also throw in four FREE bonus products worth more than $150.00.

    Click here to find out more.

  2. I will be speaking four times at three events in the Atlanta area next week. If you live there, I’d love to meet you and shake your hand! You can find me here:

    If you want to explore the possibility of having me speak at your event, visit my speaking page.

Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: What needs to change in you if you are going to manage change effectively? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.toddliles.com/ Todd Liles

    I love the “You can’t resist change; you must embrace it.”  I totally agree.  Even if it scares you, the end result is a happier life. 

    • Jim Martin

      Todd, I liked this as well.  You are right.  Embracing change may be scary but the end result may be very good.  Far better than allowing our fear to rule.

  • WilliamIV

    This makes me think of my Cub Scout Troop. Now we have more people that need assistance. And this Summer we had low participation primarily because of people desiring a financial break. We have more fee events and we have to call each member personally for participation.

  • http://www.wadeoradio.com/ DJ Wade-O

    Thank you for answering my question on the podcast Michael.  Your answer was not what I expected you to say, but it certainly confirmed a lot of what is going on professionally for me right now.  Obviously, we’ve never met before, but your website has been a huge influence and resource for me.  Thanks again.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, DJ. I hope my answer was helpful. I appreciate your support!

      • http://www.wadeoradio.com/ DJ Wade-O

        Yes you did.  Thanks.  Sorry if I didn’t clarify that before.  The sub-point you made about integrity helped me put my situation into perspective.  Embrace change unless, its causing you do to something that goes against your value system.  Good stuff.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    A leader in turbulent times must be like a bridge over troubled water. 

    Author’s note: This comment is meant to be sung, not typed.

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    I specifically liked how you tied this with the government as people do not seem to see this.
    Thank you Michael.

    K, bye

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      It’s nice to see other people getting the fact we can’t continue to pour into ineffective programs.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Absolutely correct Christopher. Regrettably “We the People” get the government we elect, and the 90%+ incumbent return rate status quo is shameful….

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    I’m working on shifting how I use my time and being intentional with it. I really appreciated this podcast and glad I’m a subscriber!

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Indeed, Kimanzi – my time management mandates aggressive, constant prioritization. The challenge for me occurs when others who have a less disciplined time management approach create avoidable “fire drills.”

      • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

        That’s a great way to put it :)

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

         Thanks Tor, I’ll be using your terminology :)

  • endyourday

    Great post and episode Michael. How do you think this relates to organizations and not just individuals. Do the same recommendations apply? I see a growing need for Change Management based on the accelerations of dramatic shifts that are difficult to keep up with. Organizations have long standing cultures that are difficult to change. Do you think Kotter’s 8 steps still applies?


    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I think it applies equally to individuals and organizations. In fact, I think most of my application in the episode was organizational. I don’t recall Kotter’s eight steps. Sorry.

  • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

    I really needed to hear this. I’ve been in publishing since 2002, too, and your stories really has me thinking about some “shifts” that I need to make. Thank you…your hard work is not in vain!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Chris. I appreciate that.

  • http://www.vistage.com/ Jon Tucker

    RE: Question: What needs to change in you if you are going to manage change effectively? 
    I hope that BEFORE I need to do action 1 ( face the reality that there is a ‘new normal’), I have already tried to learn about this new reality while it was still emerging.

    I also want to become more ‘strategic’ and to be on the lookout for trouble’ – new biz models & technologies that will lessen the value of my business or make it obsolete.

    I know I won’t ever be fully prepared—but hopefully, I am less afraid to do the next actions you recommended in your list!

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      “…but hopefully, I am less afraid to the next actions…” – Jon, this is a great point. Economic turmoil and uncertainty can create fear, especially for leadership. 

      But true leaders need to demonstrate calm. I love the analogy that airline attendants are instructed to show no fear or emotion regardless of how bad the turbulence gets. Fear is contagious and leaders need to stop its spread.

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Great thoughts captured in this podcast – it should be mandatory listening for elected officials in DC #wishfulthinking….

  • http://twitter.com/thejoshbjones Joshua Brandon Jones

     In change you should “shift your allocation”. A new thing you start can have the momentum to sustain the old thing that you’d need to cut.  This is some great wisdom that i’ve heard Andy Stanley mention also on his leadership podcast.  It’s also why i’ve named one of my blogs dedicated to technology and culture “Conversatio Morum”. Because of our constantly shifting world and the constant change that we find ourselves living in.

    • http://www.wevival.com/ Jason Stambaugh

      “Defunding” something is always tough choice. Maybe a lesson for the folks over at MySpace…

      Excited to hear about your new blog. 

  • Erin

    I really enjoyed hearing this “Shift” message. Because I don’t lead a team in the traditional sense, I wasn’t sure how much would apply to me. But you offer so many points that are completely relevant for solopreneurs.

    What needs to change in me is the need/desire to “do it all.” I know that to grow I have to delegate and outsource. One comment you made gave me pause. I, too, believe God will not give us more than we can handle, but sometimes we take on more than we can handle. Just because it’s on our plate doesn’t mean God doled it out. I have to remember that.

    • Jim Martin

      Erin, so glad you enjoyed Michael’s message.  I suspect many of us can relate to your need/desire to “do it all.”  I remember coming to the realization at one point, several years ago, that I just could not continue to do all that I was trying to do.  Besides being unable to do it all, there were other people who could do many of these projects much better than I could.  It has taken awhile to break this pattern.  I wish you the very best in your desire to move beyond the practice of trying to “do it all.”

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    I appreciated that you asked, “What needs to change in you…?” When things get turbulent, we tend to focus on what’s wrong around us, on the things that we can’t change. I’d have to say, a greater willingness to listen and to patiently gather data.

    Jim Collins talks about 10x leaders and how they are empirical, they don’t rely on what worked in the past or what seems right to them. Instead, they develop ways to get feedback, they research, and they really listen to those they work with.

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