At the time of this writing our country and industry are confronting major adversity. The words “uncharted territory” have been overused but convey the uncertainty of profound change and challenge. But adversity always has a purpose – and I am sure you can even see that in your personal lives as well. On the back end of any major problem, issue, setback or challenge – upon thoughtful or strategic reflection we can see how it becomes a platform for perspective and progress.
I have been witness to a lot of turmoil in this industry; starting when I was a kid. My Union Carpenter turned contractor Dad had 150 guys in the field, an El Camino, a summer house in Twain Harte, and my sisters and I lacked for nothing. Then came the 1975-76 economic crisis. Interest rates went to 16%. No one paid. Lines of credit were non-existent – and very quickly our family’s economic world crashed down taking with it my Dad’s company. Our family endured some hard times. But we all came back stronger, wiser and more successful than ever.
In the eighties I was looking for a job in a recession. None of my friends could find one. The promise of college = opportunity seemed like BS. Then I got a job interview at United Contractors. They got 110 resumes. Had 7 finalists. Hunger breeds desire. And they saw that edge and hired me. I guess now as CEO, it kinda worked out.
In several more down cycles I saw the industry struggle, but the edge created by adversity really showed in the 2008 financial crisis. Remarkably few contractors I know went under compared to what I had seen in other less brutal circumstances. Why? Because the adversity lessons that they had in hand had helped them to see what needed to be done. And wiser, shrewder and more pro-actively, they again thrived.
Now again, we face adversity and uncertainty. The key for leaders is not to be reactive. To stop and remember that this is a moment to bring empathy, understanding and wisdom to our leadership. The business world is built on the care of the people within it. And for them to withstand adversity, they have to see and feel that you really care. Those that make this their priority will not only sharpen their edge, but obtain a competitive one in the aftermath of these challenges.
They say the Chinese symbol for chaos and opportunity are the same. I’ll have to take their word for it. But there is some irony in that and practical application for us. Perhaps the issue at hand will resolve sooner than later – but the inevitability of a recession seems apparent. Perhaps there will be a significant industry contraction – or conversely the next step to recovery may be massive infusions into infrastructure. What I do know is this. No one would be in our business if they were not equipped to deal with adversity. No one who accepts the level of risk that our business has lacks the ability to strategically address profound change.
As leaders at the center of the storm, counted upon for navigation by those that depend upon us we have the greatest opportunity to sharpen our edge. I tell my staff that how we respond at this moment is our legacy opportunity. Watching my Dad sell that El Camino gave me a sobering look at the limits of our control in this life. But what we all have within our grasp is how we respond to it. And I encourage us all to embrace adversity as a whetstone to our edge and our capabilities, not only for ourselves, but for everyone we lead and care about.