I usually write about strategy implementation, leadership, and turning everyday work into top-notch learning.  Be warned, today’s post is a little different.

The events of the last few weeks have shaken many of our core beliefs.  I was in Knoxville with a client when the market started its dizzying plunge.  We watched with awe as it dropped hundreds of points.  Little did we know at that point that the market close of that day would look stratospheric compared with where we are today.

And still the question remains, “Where will it end? Where’s the bottom? Where is the solid ground?”

One principle taught by Tom Paterson, one of the most experienced organizational consultants on the planet, is that we have to find the truth or it will bite us in the butt.   In other words, you can have the most elegant vision in the world, but if it’s based on illusion, it floats away like vapor – only with crashing sounds.

I’ve been reflecting recently on things we assumed as “truth” that are now challenged by reality:

  • My money will grow by X% between now and the day I need it (I’ll leave you to fill in X depending on how bullish you were)
  • My 401(K) will still be a 401 (K) in thirty years
  • Our financial system is rock solid and our deposits/investments are safe

It’s possible that this whole season will look like irrational hysteria in a few months.  We may recover more quickly than the gloomy economists predict.  Maybe…

But regardless, there’s a good side to a market correction like this.  The vertigo we feel as our assumptions shake beneath our feet can force us to ask fundamental questions.  Like, what really is true? What do we really believe? What are the core principles on which we can stand?

I don’t have all of my answers yet.  But here are few stabs:

  1. If my ultimate security comes from something as fickle as money, I’m hosed.  I’m not my paycheck, my bank account, my 401(K) or my house.  And neither are you.  We all matter regardless of what happens in the markets.
  2. Values count.  It’s easy to frame values and hang them on the wall.  But now, when it’s all falling apart, is when we find out what really matters to us.  I want to look back on these days and feel proud that I stuck with a core set of principles.
  3. Relationships matter.  It’s easy to shrink back right now, to just stare at the news in disbelief.  Now is the time to reach out, to offer help, to listen.  We may lose financial capital, but we can be building relational capital with colleagues, clients, suppliers, even competitors.
  4. The how matters immensely.  We are all going to have to do unpleasant things in the coming months.  Last time we had an event like this (9/11), I had the great displeasure of laying off 80% of my workforce over the following 18 months.  It was the right thing to do for the organization and I was the face of that organization.  But how I did that – the way I delivered the message, the personal support I offered to employees (those who stayed and those who left) – I knew that mattered big-time.  We’re there again.  We can do difficult, “right” things and still be human (in the best sense of that word).
  5. Quality time over good, simple food with friends and loved ones is still one of the best things on the planet.  No market correction can take that away.

That’s my starter list.  What values correction is this roller-coaster ride creating for you?