Thursday's Thoughts On Leaderhip: Leading In Uncertain Times

Joe Cool. We all are familiar with that archetype from the movies and literature and even the comic book pages. He is the person who is unflappable, no matter the situation. The situations may change, but they follow the same routine: everybody panicking, except for one guy, who is unruffled as he does his assigned task. They exist in real life, one example was Joe Montana. He was famous for a lot of things, most prominently, the Super Bowl titles he won leading the San Francisco 49ers. Those who played with him point to one thing above everything else: his ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.

In the 1989 Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals. The San Francisco 49ers found themselves down by three points with 3:20 left in the game. Despite their belief in themselves, they, like all professionals, felt some nerves in the huddle to start that last drive. Harris Barton, who played tackle on that team, remembers the nerves and how quickly they disappeared, not because of a play on the field or because of a rousing speech, but one simple observation and a comment from Montana that seemed out of place. Harris remembers Montana stepping into the huddle to start the drive and all of a sudden saying, “Hey, there, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp. Isn't that John Candy (the late actor and comedian)?"

At that moment, Barton remembers the anxiety leaving him and his teammates. That Montana could seemingly be so unaffected by the pressure of the moment, brought great ease to his teammates and the belief that he would lead them the final 92 yards to victory. And that is exactly what he did.

Earlier this week, in the Intero Insider, I wrote of the uncertain times we face in our industry with fast coming changes: the expiring homebuyer tax credit, the increase in the incidence of foreclosures and the Federal Reserve’s plan to stop purchasing mortgage-backed securities that have been helping to keep interest rates low. How these changes and many other factors might affect our industry in the coming months is unknown, but we can see it as our own fourth quarter drive. How you react, and how we react as a company and as leaders in this company can set the tone.

Just like his teammates, we can learn from the words of Joe Montana: "I just try to treat every moment the same, whether it's the first part of the game or the last part of the game,'' Montana said. "You try to be yourself. The biggest thing that is the difference to your team is when you get into tight situations and all of a sudden your personality changes. They see a difference, and if you're the same, they have more of a tendency to be the same.'' When the pressure was on, Montana was at his best. He knew he was prepared. He knew the game plan. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates and his own, and how to minimize them or exploit them. Above all, he knew the task at hand and he only concentrated at executing. Because of his ability to lead in uncertain times, his teammates could concentrate on their tasks and execute their responsibilities. The result was not just a touchdown, but a championship and a legacy that will never fade.