Daniel Kilburn: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Communications — We have all been communicated to our entire lives. The messages we receive shape who we are and how we see the world. As leaders, we are responsible for communicating clearly and effectively with our team members and loved ones. We must be brief and to the point, using language everyone can understand. By doing so, we can create a strong foundation for success.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Kilburn.
Daniel Kilburn is an experienced consultant, leader, author, and coach. With firsthand knowledge of what can happen during a natural disaster. His goals include identifying needs, defining objectives, coordinating resources, and conceptualizing solutions. Daniel’s passion for disaster management can be traced back to the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, after which he spent significant time on disaster management education and instructional design. As a consultant, he specializes in the All-Hazards Disaster Planning approach and acceptable risk aversion.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My emergency action planning career started after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I was married with a three-year-old daughter and knew nothing about responding to a significant earthquake. It took me six years to find helpful information to build an emergency action plan. 13 years later, my daughter, who was 16 at the time, calls me about men fighting in the grocery store over gallons of water. It was hurricane season in Florida, and four hurricanes hit in six weeks. I decided if anyone could prepare people for emergencies and natural disasters, it would be me. Today my vision is to protect our children from the emergencies and natural disasters that will come into their lives. I help parents prepare for inevitable emergencies and natural disasters so they can protect their children and live a life without fear.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Several years ago, I was making lunch for my sister and me. I asked her what ingredients to put on her sandwich, and one of the ingredients she mentioned was Miracle Whip. I did not have any, so I used mayonnaise instead. Lunch went by fine all food was consumed with no complaints. Sometime later, the subject of Miracle Whip came up, and I informed my sister that I did not have any Miracle Whip, and I used mayonnaise instead. My sister immediately scrambled away to relieve herself of the offending ingredients. I did think that was funny.
I learned to pay attention to the wants and needs of others and not to assume I know everything and an alternate option is acceptable. It is best to determine if alternatives are acceptable by asking a question and getting an answer., “Is this (insert option) acceptable for you?”
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I cannot say there was a single person instrumental to my successes. I will say that many people have influenced my way of being now. Those people support me and my goals; I am grateful they have come into my life. As social beings, we need connections to others. If we are to do anything significant, we need others to move with us to achieve our goals. Find others you can support in their ventures, and they will find a way to help you and yours.
Last year I was seeking individuals to interview for one of my projects. I posed my request for speakers to all the venues I had access to. One individual introduced me to one of their friends, who introduced me to one of his friends. The project became a great success, and the first two interviews set the standard for the remaining series.
Do not hesitate to ask those around you for support. You can never tell what beautiful things will come out of asking.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, and what was its purpose?
There are purpose-driven businesses that are transactional, and there are those that are transformational.
My first foray into Emergency Action Planning as a business was explicitly oriented to Hurricane preparedness in my county. As a transactional business, I naively thought that Drill Sergeant Dan would decisively instruct the client on how to manage the disaster and protect themselves, their family, and their property. The idea that this would work was good in theory but not practice.
Over time my vision and purpose transformed from managing disasters to protecting our children. This transformational vision still included the mechanics of disaster management. And, at a deeper level, it instills communication, leadership, and resiliency in the family that will last long after the parent is gone. My vision keeps me disciplined to continue when times get tough.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Leading a team during difficult or uncertain times starts at the beginning of the teambuilding relationship. Is your team your family, a virtual assistant, or the managers you oversee? It does not matter who you are leading. There must be a plan of action. It is not always certain what complex or uncertain times are. But it is sure how the team will react to uncertain or difficult times based on the culture of the business.
Open communications are the start of a harmonious relationship within the team. As the leader, I must be clear in my intent for any specific project, the goal must be S.M.A.R.T., and team members must be comfortable to freely voice any thoughts or ideas about the project. We never know where the next great idea will come from; squelching the team’s voice will ensure it will not come from any of them. Fostering a culture of clear communications within the group creates connection and resiliency and builds leadership in the team.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Yes, more than once, I have thought about giving up, and more than once, I did. During those times, I did not give up because I knew what I was doing was important and deserved to be completed because of the people the project would impact. Motivation is a waning goal-directed behavior. The ebb and flow of motivation are contingent on the success or failure of a given process in a project. Most wins in my projects have frequently been directly driven by discipline. As leaders, we must accept the responsibility that we may not be immediately fruitful with our projects. Discipline will carry us through to completion, where others who are not disciplined will give up.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I have books in my life all the time. Right now, there are two on Kindle, one Hardback and one on Audible in progress; I enjoy listening on Audible while driving to-and-fro. One of the most recent books of significance is The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Communicating clearly is a vanishing skill, and the ability to ask for support has been removed from our lexicon. The Art of Asking is a wonderfully produced piece of performance art. The author weaves an enriching story of her life as an artist and her struggle with asking for help while moving through her personal and professional life. Well worth the listen.
This read has reinforced my need to accept support by asking for it. People are genuinely willing to help when and where they can.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Authenticity is an overused word, but it is valuable in leadership today. During challenging times, a true leader will demonstrate authority through genuine use of truth and by acting correctly to overcome the challenges facing the team or organization. Being authentically connected to the outcome will transform organizational chaos into organizational composure.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Inspiring and engaging a team during uncertain times is reflected by leadership communications. Consistent communication will instill motivation through its certainty. Leaders must let their team know they have their backs and will do what is possible to ensure success. The leader must follow through and demonstrate faith in the team. This will allow the team to act unfettered to accomplish their goals during times of uncertainty.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Lead with the outcome, not with the problem. This is considered re-framing. Focusing on the successful result is necessary instead of focusing on what is broken. Reframing the conversation on how the recovery, correction, or fix is accomplished will relieve anxiety and stress among the clients and team — having the answer before the question confirms authority and leadership. Time is essential, do not waste time looking for an answer. If there is no immediate answer to the current problem, say so. Let your clients or team know that you are aware of the situation and that a solution is diligently being sought.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Life is unpredictable, and the future can only be marginally predicted when a plan of action is implemented. Understanding your project management plan, knowing what you want to do, and following the creation process will allow the project to be finished. This also means the project may change in scope or be abandoned because of new information gathered during the creation process. And that is ok because you have made plans for it.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Congruent communication skills are the foundation of all leadership principles. I cannot express it any more clearly. If the leader communicates with intentional clarity and validates understanding of the process, the probability of success is almost inevitable. Follow through with reviews that the processes are being followed and within scope to catch any turbulence and adjust.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- I Am Smarter Than You.
- Cost Cutting
- Fixed Organizational Mindset
Being in a leadership position does not mean we have all the answers. When faced with unknowns, a responsible leader will seek counsel to secure information that can make the difference in success or failure.
Economic downturns will often require financial adjustments just to stay in business. Laying off employees and not paying the bills are the two most used forms of relief. These will often create short-term relief, but the long-term repercussions may be unbearable for the company to survive. Clear communications with all stakeholders may create alternate processes that benefit the organization before making a wrong decision.
A fixed mindset, or that’s how we have always done it, might be why we are in distress now. Being stuck in a fixed mindset does have its ups and downs. A fixed mindset allows continuity in operations with little to no deviation. It can also cause narrow thinking on making needed adjustments or corrections to a process that might benefit from the change. Having a dedicated Red Man/Woman on the team whose function is to break the project can make a difference when finalizing project processes. I like to change the Red Man/Woman regularly within the team. Often the most ardent supporter of a project is the best person to have as the Red Man/Woman. Today the Red Team concept is generally identified as something needed in cyber security. But a dedicated Red Man/Woman can improve groupthink, cognitive bias, assumptions, and risk analysis.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
We have all been communicated to our entire lives. The messages we receive shape who we are and how we see the world. As leaders, we are responsible for communicating clearly and effectively with our team members and loved ones. We must be brief and to the point, using language everyone can understand. By doing so, we can create a strong foundation for success.
In September 2017, my granddaughter and I were going through the trailer one last time before nightfall. Sitting on the sofa, she asked me if everything was OK. I snap back, “of course it is.” She replied, “No, it’s not. Something is wrong, and you are upset and anxious. I can tell.” I jump immediately into my Drill Sergeant Dan mode and tell her, “The category five hurricane that is supposed to hit in the next 36 hours may destroy everything here, and I am looking to see what else may be saved.” I immediately notice the angst and concern deepening on her face, realizing this is not what I should be saying. I immediately shift gears and sit down next to her, take her hand and ask her what the plan is. She tells me where we are evacuating, who is there, and what we have done so far to make it happen. I then tell her that even though we have a plan, I am still anxious because of the uncertainty of what will happen once the hurricane lands. During this conversation, I notice her anxiety dissipates, her face becomes softer, and a little smile tries to creep onto her face. After all, we do have a plan. I then realize our presence there is unproductive; we have already done all that can be done, and we leave and get an ICEE.
Leaders cannot be all things to all people, but they can try to be consistent in their thoughts, actions, and deeds. Congruence is a good indicator of stability and predictability for a team. When a leader is consistent, the team knows what to expect from them and can act accordingly. This doesn’t mean that goals can’t change or that targets shouldn’t be adjusted, but it does mean that any changes should be made with the team’s buy-in. Otherwise, the team will feel like they’re constantly chasing their tails without clear direction.
There was a time in my life when I wore many hats, and I still do. I believed I needed to be different as a leader in other venues. Drill Sergeant, Dad, Sous-Chef, and Entrepreneur. At some point, I realized I was confused about who I was and was confusing others around me. Over time I came to an awareness that being a leader is constant and does not need to change with the position. The only changes required are with the mechanics or processes. Leadership remains the same.
A leader’s intent will drive the program forward or into the ground. When we spend time, resources, and talent on a project, the leader must be dedicated to successful completion. There cannot be any kicking of the tires. Dipping toes into the water, or hesitancy in the will to achieve. Lack of intent will not destroy the project but can cause turbulence, strife, and confusion. The leader’s intent will bolster the will and determination of the team to see the project completed.
In 2004 the seedling of Emergency Action Planning sprouted. And since then, the intent has grown to be significant and able to do something great for the world. These desires are not uncommon, we all want to be someone special, and we all want to be great at something. Our intent is what will make that desire a reality or a passing thought. I intend to impact the lives of 1,000,000 urban families by 2027 positively. What do you intend to do?
In turbulent times, it is essential to have the resilience to progress towards a positive outcome. A leader’s ability to recover from chaos, turbulence, and uncertainty set the tone for the family, team, and organization. That tone establishes the standard for everyone else to follow. If the leader falls, so does the rest of the group. Therefore, it is essential for leaders to be resilient to maintain a successful team or organization.
Resiliency comes from events, education, status, and beliefs instilled in us throughout our lifetime. It can be generally thought of as a strength, an ability to suffer through adversity. Moving is an excellent example of the need for resiliency. Having recently traveled cross country to be closer to family and bring my intent to fruition reinforces my need for resiliency. I need to accept the changes in culture and demographics as a valuable learning experience.
The definition of vulnerability is a weakness, flaw, an aberration that should be beaten down, defeated, and denied daily. Lack of vulnerability causes us more harm than accepting the truth that we are human and therefore vulnerable. Having the courage to show our weaknesses is not a flaw or something to be hidden. But it is a strength of personal understanding and understanding of others and the world around us.
My understanding of the need to be vulnerable only came to me within the last few years. Because of it, I have accomplished more by discarding the need to be perfect and seeing who I am and the value I add to the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” — Hellen Keller.
Growing up, we were always moving, a new city and school every year. At an early age, I was told without a doubt that I could never have anything, therefore, do not ask for it. And for a long time, I did not ask for anything. I cannot say precisely how, but one day that changed after my first daughter was born. I was determined not to let my daughter grow up as I did. I did not have any frame of reference on how to make that happen, but I did know what would happen if I did nothing.
The Hellen Keller quote was introduced to me because of a saying I developed and started regularly using as an adult. “Life is an adventure. Are you having one?” I certainly saw my life as an adventure and was curious about the experiences of others, and I do want to hear about them. I pose this question to myself and others daily. Step away from the herd, stop being average and do something special that only you can do. Have an Adventure.
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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Daniel Kilburn: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.