While visiting my old hometown in southern Louisiana recently, I came across what became my favorite advertising piece of the year. As I stopped at an intersection, I noticed a billboard for a real estate agent named Panky. (I kid you not.)
Panky's billboard was divided into two sections. On the right-hand side were his name, his company's name, and his contact information. On the left-hand side of the billboard was a simple bullet-point list in large print. The list read, "Business is great. People are terrific. Life is wonderful."
I chuckled and told my wife that if I were looking to buy or sell a home around those parts, Panky is the guy I'd call. I like this guy's outlook on things!
If there is an industry that can give financial services a run for its money on the number of doom-and-gloom stories printed and broadcast about it recently, it would be the real estate industry. In the face of that, Panky's "ode to optimism" brought a smile to my face and stayed in my mind. That's not a small marketing feat in itself, and one worth noting.
When I finish reading a newspaper these days, I'm not sure if I should put it in the recyclables bin or roll it into a log to burn in our fireplace this winter. Kidding aside, we shouldn't ignore the impact that the unending stories and predictions of doom have on all of us. It's akin to the largest marketing campaign in history, selling folks on why they are nuts if they feel less than terrified right about now.
And just because "expert" predictions seem to be wrong just about as often as they are right doesn't seem to slow the "doom campaign" down one bit. A recent example was this year's "Black Friday," the most famous retail shopping day of the year. We were assured it would show how weak the economy and Americans' confidence have become.
In the face of nonstop negative predictions, sales on that day were actually up by 3% over last year. Ah, but it was quickly and widely reported that last year's increase had been 8% over the previous year. So the percentage increase in sales was less than the percentage increase of the previous year. And shame on us for even looking for good news in those results!
Now, I'm not delusional about the challenges facing our economy in general and our industry in particular. Yes, we are undeniably in a period of turmoil and real challenges.
What I am suggesting is that leaders in our institutions today need to be as fully engaged in projecting confidence in their organizations and industry as they have ever been (see Panky). I've seen several pretty smart external campaigns from banks recently. I would suggest that internal campaigns may be just as important.
An explanation of the open-loop nature of the brain's limbic system is a regular slide in my presentations these days. We humans are hardwired to adjust our moods and emotions to those around us, and particularly to those we perceive to be in positions of authority.
I remember flying on a small prop plane through very turbulent skies a while back. I was all of about five feet from the pilot, and I kept an eye on him. As harrowing as the jolts and bumps were, as long as he was smiling, I remembered to breathe.
When he looked back and joked, "Isn't this fun?" I felt my grip on the arms of my chair loosen just a bit. He followed with, "Just a little bumpy air," and then explained the weather system we were in. The ride was going to be rough, but if he was upbeat and confident, then I was going to be, as well.
In times of uncertainty, our employees tend, even more than usual, to calibrate their moods and behaviors to the examples set by leadership — from CEO to branch manager. And their moods and behaviors drive the culture your customers experience when they visit a branch or pick up a phone to call you.
I'm in no way suggesting that we should hide bad news or concerns from our teams. What I am suggesting is that they are getting an oversupply of that (some accurate, some not) from scores of outside sources. A proactive and sustained focus on the positive from our leaders is not ignoring reality as much as it is helping our teams keep some sense of balance and perspective.
A senior banker friend recently shared with me that he's been reminding his team that if people are indeed being scared into holding on to their money, they have to put it somewhere. He's been telling his folks, "Lucky for us, we're in that business!" Within challenges lie opportunities.
Many events today are beyond our control. What is in our control is the perspective we keep, the attitude we adopt, and the actions we take. Make sure you're setting the example you'd want your team following. They almost assuredly will be.