First, Face Reality

08.01.2021 |

Episode #1 of the course How to lead in tough times by Frank McKinley


Welcome to the course!

My name is Frank McKinley. I’ve been in leadership since the 1980s. Since then, I’ve dealt with some pretty tough situations.

In this course, you’ll learn how tough leaders think, how they spend their time, and how they solve seemingly impossible problems.


Walking into a Mess

One Friday afternoon my boss called.

“Frank, I need your help. The manager over in Forest Park just quit. She’s made a real mess at that store. Would you go over there on Monday and take over?”

He sweetened the deal with money, so I agreed to go.

The next Monday, a tractor-trailer jackknifed and blocked all five lanes, making me 20 minutes late. When I arrived, two ladies were standing outside the door.

The first thing we did after opening the store was having a meeting. I asked them to tell me how they did things. I listened, answered their questions, and told them the changes we would make immediately.


Embracing Reality

We all wish the world was a nice place and that everyone would do what they should.

The truth is it’s not always nice, and people do what they want, whether or not they should.

Run from reality and your problems will grow. Embrace it and you can overcome almost any challenge.

When I walked into the mess in Forest Park, I did three things.


Get Brutally Honest

Ask yourself when tough times come:

What exactly is going on? The more detailed you get, the better your next steps will be.

Who’s responsible? People drive organizations. Who are the players? What are the consequences of their actions? What led to this?

What can we change? Messy situations can seem impossible to unravel. But if you’re willing to dig deep enough, you’ll find answers. Budget time for this.

What should we do now? Never leave a mess without taking one step forward. Create movement and you’ll build momentum. Changing direction is hard at first, but once you start moving, it grows easier.


Don’t Waste Time

I had to turn my store around fast.

I had been called in to change things, and that expectation preceded me.

Here are the problems we faced:

1. Inventory was stockpiled in the storeroom.

2. Employees were shackled by countless rules restricting what they could do.

3. The windows didn’t invite street traffic into the store.

4. The store closed at 6 pm.

The main problem was every one of these practices was killing our sales. I knew we had to act fast, so here’s what we did:

1. Move as much merchandise to the sales floor as possible.

2. Give team members the freedom to move with the customer from greeting to sale.

3. Use the window for signage about what was on sale.

4. Extend store hours to 8 pm so people could shop after work.

Sales shot up 130% the first week!


Now It’s Your Turn

Find a persistent problem you’re facing with your team. Then, answer these questions:

1. What exactly is the problem?

2. What started it?

3. What can we do to change it?

4. What would happen if we make this change?

Before you choose a solution, consider this. If you want to solve a problem, change the behavior that fuels it. Drill down deep enough to find one or two behaviors that drive the rest. Then focus your efforts on changing that behavior.

In our next lesson, we’ll learn why you need to develop a mean streak. Until then…

Lead well,



Recommended book

How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers by David M. Rubenstein


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