As I write this note, I have just completed my 27th year with International Paper. As I look back over this time period with bag plants, paper mills, box plants, and this current region role, I would have to say the last six months may have been the toughest of these 27 years. I have even debated as to even write this note. I usually have someone or some group in mind when I write these notes. I guess this month, I write primarily to myself. The more I have thought about it though, everyone that leads others will go through difficult times. Some of you may be going through those now. If not, you will likely face some adversity in the future.
The first half of 2018 has been full of safety issues, challenging customer issues, some major catastrophic events, poor reliability, lack of volume in places, and some pretty concerning employee issues (as well as disappointing engagement results). Now that’s a whole lot of disappointment, discouragement, and concern for six months. Trust me, I have tried to figure out what changed, how we got off track, and what we need to do differently. There are no doubt some things we need to address. We will have to change a few things and execute better in a few areas. To get different results, we will obviously have to do something different.
However, there is something else we have to realize here. There will be times in life when adversity hits, and its’ just part of life. I read recently where a very wise man said:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted
A time to break down, and a time to build up.
We will go through seasons of life. Some of these will be smooth and things will fall into place. We will also go through seasons where adversity will hit from all angles no matter what we have prepared or what we do. During these seasons we have to do a few things well to navigate through them and lead well. Here are a few ideas:
1. Step back and challenge what we are doing. Does it makes sense now? Do we need to alter or adept to get the results we need?
2. Challenge your folks and ensure everyone is accountable. Don’t bear these burdens alone.
3. Press on through the adversity. Don’t quit. Recognize the season and get through it.
Too many people ignore the issues and just hope things will eventually go away. That won’t get it done. Others panic, take it out on everyone around them, and just make matters worse for everyone. That doesn’t work either. Be honest with your folks, stay calm, follow the three step process above, and most of all don’t stop leading. Your people need leadership in these times more than ever.
I have never forgotten this short poem that someone gave me back in high school:
When things go wrong as they sometimes will.
When the road your trudging seems all up hill.
When the funds are low and the debts are high.
And you want to smile but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit.
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.