Nick Ashooh is senior director of corporate and executive communication at APCO Worldwide. He has led communications at five Fortune 500 companies, is past chairman of The Seminar and The Wisemen, a former trustee of the Arthur W. Page Society and a member of the Society’s Hall of Fame. Nick is an honors graduate of Marquette University.
I’ve dealt with crises of various types during my career. Each was gut-wrenching and, I believed, would damage my advancement prospects. But I can see now that these challenges allowed me to learn new things and develop new skills. And each turned out to be a step to something better.
Early in my career, the company I had dedicated more than a third of my life to was acquired and I lost my job. We had been building a controversial nuclear power plant and ended up filing for bankruptcy. It was quite a jolt and with a wife, three kids and a new mortgage, it was a pretty scary time. But I found that I had a lot of supporters, even among our company’s staunchest opponents. And all of the trials I faced turned out to be experience merit badges that helped differentiate me from other job seekers. I was able to build on those experiences and move on to successively bigger and more exciting roles. Here are a few lessons learned along the way.
Don’t shy away from challenges; run to them, even scary ones.
Although the initial impulse may be to jump ship when trouble strikes, you may be missing a chance to distinguish yourself and gain valuable experience. And the person who puts their hand up when times are tough is the one who will stand out.
Keep your focus, do the best job you can and always maintain a professional and respectful demeanor.
Different sides of people can emerge during a crisis. Don’t get frantic; don’t be a screamer (never been a fan of screamers). Keep cool and do your best thinking.
Take the long view.
No matter how bad a situation gets, it will pass. The way you handle it will probably be remembered longer than the situation itself. You’ll be judged on the work you did and how you conducted yourself.
Don’t default to the standard way of doing things.
Don’t do something just because that’s the way the organization has always done it. Try to be creative and take a different perspective. Different perspectives are valuable in a crisis.
Build and maintain constructive relationships – internally and externally, throughout your career.
Working effectively requires good relationships, and you can’t build them overnight. It takes time and work and it’s not a one-way street. The key to relationship building is what you bring to the relationship, not what you take from it. How can you be helpful? How can you take a problem off someone’s plate? How can you help someone avoid a problem in the first place? These are things that build the trusted relationships that get you the benefit of the doubt when you’re in crisis or a positive referral when you’re up for a new position.
There is one other lesson that overarches all of these: be persistent. Never give up on your message or your goal. The noise will eventually fade but you will succeed if you’re persistent.