Rebecca Johnson: Un-sinking the Ship

Leading your team is easy when the waters are calm, but how do you react when things get choppy?

BY Rebecca Johnson

Published in the September-October 2014 issue

It was Murphy’s Law in action: Everything that could go wrong had. A half-hour before the first conference session, the chairs were not set up, the continental breakfast was nowhere to be seen, and the hotel employees were in a disorganized scramble.

Needless to say, the meeting organizer was not happy. Somehow, the morning sessions got under way — but when the chaos continued into the lunch break, she made a call to complain.

Within 15 minutes, a man in blue jeans and a polo shirt showed up in the conference room, where I was preparing to lead the next course after lunch. He ran up to me and began to apologize profusely. I explained that I was only the speaker, but I would find the meeting organizer so he could talk to her. He said he had already met with her, but he wanted to make sure that he extended the apology to me as well.

He turned to the hotel staff members that were refreshing the room. “Guys,” he said. “We are better than this. Let’s turn this day around.” Next, he began moving chairs and refilling water pitchers. I was impressed when I later found out that this casually dressed take-charge man was the hotel owner, a self-made multi-millionaire. He truly believed that his staff was better than what they had delivered — and he was willing to work side by side with them to prove it.

What impressed me the most was that the hotel owner did not show frustration or make excuses. Instead, he assessed the problem and went to work with his team. His staff knew that they had disappointed him — and despite the earlier disarray, I could tell that was the last thing they would ever want to do.

What do you do on a day when things are going badly in your business? Do you assign blame? Delegate? Or do you quickly join forces with your team to set things right? The leader who can confidently keep the ship from going down earns the admiration of his employees — and of patients and customers.

REBECCA JOHNSON is a 30-year veteran in the eyecare business. She is the executive director of Business Consultative Services for GPN and owner of EyeTrain4You, an ophthalmic staff training and development company. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.