What is Your (Debt) Ceiling?

Shawn Temple
What is Your (Debt) Ceiling?

You don’t have to be a news junkie to be aware of the debt ceiling crisis the United States went through in May. Again. Leaders in Washington, D.C. take us on a little adventure every few years…a game of chicken with global financial markets that will affect actual people from Wall Street to Main Street.

But don’t worry. This is not a commentary on government spending, the national debt or budget deficits. Let’s learn the lessons Washington always seems eager to teach us—what not to do in our own organizations.  


Be Relational, Not Transactional


It could be argued that we go through this crisis every few years because our leaders treat the problem like a game. Everything is either a win or a loss. Zero sum. Leadership in public office has become extraordinarily transactional.

Think of the challenges you have solved, and must solve, every day—personally and professionally. When you approach obstacles from a relational standpoint, your chances of overcoming them exponentially increase.

People have problems. People must solve problems. Together.

Transactional wins are inherently short-term. Relational wins build trust over the long-term, making the next obstacle easier to surmount.


Solve Problems Early


This debt ceiling fight takes us right up to the midnight deadline every time. It’s nerve-racking, absurd and completely avoidable. Everyone knows well in advance the problem is on the horizon; yet they don’t tackle it.

For some, it’s so they can assemble a game plan to win the transaction. For others, there are competing deadlines to meet first. Still, others lack the power or will.

Imagine if everyone knew about the biggest problem in your credit union or community bank, but no one mentioned it, worked on it or seemingly cared about its significance. That would create a great deal of anxiety among managers, staff, members and customers.

That’s not leadership. Leaders identify and solve problems early. Don’t wait until the eleventh hour. Lead.


Practice Good Faith and Good Conflict

It’s painful to watch the coverage of D.C. “negotiators” as they pose for the cameras to document their progress(or lack thereof). It looks as though they are being forced to smile under threat of death. In most cases, it’s because there is a lack of good faith…maybe even a total absence of it.

In your organization, one of the most impactful things you should do as a leader is practice “good conflict.” People have different viewpoints, expertise and experiences. You need to hear from everyone.

Poke holes, poke the bear, turn over every stone. If you do so from a place of good faith, nothing is a personal attack. Instead, everything is in pursuit of the best possible answer.

Good faith plus good conflict equals great negotiation and problem solving.

There you have it. Practice these skills, and your institution will never hit the ceiling. Of course, mastering these tips is easier said than done. That’s why On The Mark Strategies leadership training facilitators are here to help. Book your free consultation today!

Shawn Temple
Strategy Director
Shawn Temple
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