Leading Through Downsizing
Iâ€™m an old pro at downsizing. Itâ€™s true.
While the rest of the world has watched recent events with anxiety at the possibility of losing their job, Iâ€™m quite familiar with this life of uncertainty. A veteran of the textile industry for 15 years, Iâ€™ve spent the last five watching the companies Iâ€™ve worked and cared for slowly shrink into oblivion. Itâ€™s been difficult. Itâ€™s been unpleasant. But, itâ€™s been a learning experience like no other.
As one of the few Christians in my workplace, I often found I took a special outlook on the situation that kept me calm and gave me the ability to calm the storm in others. Not that I didnâ€™t get angry. I did. Not that I didnâ€™t get unnerved. I did. But at the end of each round of layoffs or downsizing (and there were many), I was able to step away from the situation with a larger view than most. Even when I fell into the crosshairs, at the core I knew that I would be okay.
I found that being a leader during times such as these were a very different challenge than leadership needed during other times. The type of leadership that leans on Christ more than ever before. The kind of leadership that presents the opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are desperately searching for something to hold onto. The kind of leadership for which you will one day be proud.
Should you fall into a situation of downsizing, and you are in a position of leadership, the following strategies can help not only you, but the people in your charge:
1. Be Honest and forthright. When people are considering the possibility of losing their jobs, they need someone who is not only honest with them, but is straightforward. Often, within the same hour of management being notified of a pending layoff, the people that worked for me became aware of it as well. Call it the rumor mill, an overzealous administrative assistant, or whatever you like. The fact was and is: they already know.
I found that admitting to the problem at hand gave people a sense of almost relief. I acknowledged that their fears were real, and they were much more able to deal with them. Keeping in mind that some things told to me were confidential, I only told them what I felt I was allowed to. Often, simply admitting there was a problem was the best thing I could do to quell their anxiety.
In more than one case, employees thanked me for being honest with them. Even when they were the ones that were laid off.
2. Stay in the game. Do not withdraw. As layoffs became more and more frequent, I felt myself drawn to pull away from the people I had grown so close to over the years. The fact that I might be facing them in HR weeks later with bad news left me awake many nights. But, I hung in there knowing that I wouldnâ€™t want to be stressed out by my boss withdrawing from me. In many ways, we became a stronger team, tackling the situation together. They knew that I would do whatever I could to keep them in their positions, and that was all that I could give them at that moment. Surprisingly, it was enough.
3. Pray for wisdom and grace. The wisdom to make the right choices, the grace to handle people with care. No one in a position of leadership will ever make all of the right decisions. I made mistakes during rounds of layoffs. Some I regret to this very day. But, I found that praying for direction allowed me to make better choices than the ones I tried to make on my own. Praying for grace allowed me to show the people that I was letting go how difficult it was for me. That mattered to them.
4. Pray for them individually. God has a plan for everyone. As difficult as it is to be the one with another personâ€™s future in your hands, sometimes you are part of the plan. If you are careful to follow His direction as much as you are allowed, you may find that people go on to better situations. This was true for several of my employees.
5. Ask for prayer from friends. One of the most wonderful people that I had to let go during a layoff came to me afterward worried more about me than himself. Downsizing takes its toll on leaders. You can not go through it alone. You need support from everyone you can find. Especially support through prayer. Ask other Christians to pray for you during this time. It is a heavy burden that has the ability to overwhelm rapidly. Make sure that others have you in their thoughts and prayers.
If there ever was a time and place for servant leadership, these are the times. Take care of your people as much as you can, while you can. Pray for direction and wisdom. Pray for them and their families. And always remember that as Christians we can say with confidence:
â€œThe Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?â€ Hebrews 13:6
Truly, this is a moment in time of your life. This is not forever. Do the best that you can in your given circumstances and look to Christ for support, clarity and direction. You will be blessed in the midst of turmoil, even as you bless others.
Editor's Note: For more information on ministry layoffs, click here.