Scarcity and Leadership

We are approaching the end of the year and some goals are being met and others are not.  Budgets are getting low yet there may still be things that need to be accomplished.  What do we do about the goals not being met, especially when resources are low?  How we approach this scarcity challenge may be a sign of leadership and if nothing else provide a growth opportunity.  Take a look at this Harvard Business Review blog that talks about this issue and notice some of the key thoughts about leadership in tough times.  The issue of how fast you need to go on the second half of the bridge to make your goal is quite intriguing.

The part of the blog that impressed me most though was the thought about scarcity leading to creativity and innovation. Everybody has their eyes on Washington these days to see how the fiscal cliff discussions will be resolved.  Chances are, if there is an agreement, it will be at a higher level and the real decisions will then need to be worked out by the staff folks in the different departments.  I am not sure we will consider this real leadership but I guess our expectations at this point are not real high.  Maybe we will be surprised by how our political leaders make tough resource decisions.  Let’s watch.

When we look at leadership, perhaps the greatest measure is seen by what a leader can do with limited resources.  Nobody admires the general who wins a battle when they have ten times as many soldiers as the opponent.  We definitely admire the teacher who transforms an inner-city math program into national champions just because the odds against them seem so large.  We love seeing those who start with so little and rise to greatness. We root for the underdogs because they usually don’t have the resources.  We admire startups who do big things with very little money, perhaps even starting in a garage or a basement.  We respect those who can turn around bankrupt companies and those who recover from terrible setbacks.

So often in marketing we focus on the resources we don’t have rather than the ones we have.  The best ideas seem to come when there is scarcity.  I often talk about thinking of brand management as if it is your own business and your own money that is being spent.   If the money came out of your own pocket would you analyze effectiveness in a different way?  Would you still be doing all the tactics you currently do?  Wouldn’t you constantly try to look for ways to build synergy between different tactics and make sure things really build from one project to the next?  What things that you currently do, just because everyone else does them, would you eliminate?  This is a powerful exercise that you will seldom do with huge budgets where your biggest concern is just getting as much done as possible.  Scarcity leads to critical thinking.

The key thought is it is important to act like an entrepreneur wherever you work and whatever your situation is relative to meeting your goals.  Regardless of how much budget you manage every dollar needs to be respected and managed as if it were the last dollar you have to spend.  Take some time and slow down during the next couple weeks and think about the lessons of scarcity.  Whether you are working with a budget or just managing your life making the most with whatever you have is a measure of leadership and wisdom.

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