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Debbie Madden

Executive Vice President

New York, NY

We promised to take care of our employees and we meant it. Now was the time to act, the time for talking was past.

It was April 2012. After being in business for nine years, my consulting company was at a crossroads. We had been very fortunate and had nine very successful years. Now, for the first time, we faced an uncertain future. Three events happened to align at once, the result of which was: We had to either recover within six months or lay off part of our staff. We were 50 employees at the time, and we had just found out that 16 of our billable employees would be on the bench overnight, due to circumstances outside of our control. There were six executives sitting around the conference room table. I was the only woman. What should we do? What should I do? We couldn't afford to fail.

If we were going to layoff part of our staff, part of the family we had come to love over the past nine years, it would be financially wise to make that decision sooner rather than later. Because, if we went for it and failed six months later, we would have been in a financial position that would have been almost impossible to recover from.

I decided to lean in in a very big way. I decided right then, at that table in April, that we were not going to fail, we were not going to lay off even one employee. I did not have full buy-in from my peers and I did not have a plan. All I had was unwavering faith.

Why did I make this decision? I knew in my heart that this was a defining moment for our company. We promised to take care of our employees and we meant it. Now was the time to act, the time for talking was past. If that meant the executives work a little more, or make a few sacrifices, or if that meant I saw my kids a little less for a few months, than so be it.

And then I created a plan with my team. The plan was going to play out over six months, and it consisted of three distinct phases. Phase 1: Band aid the problem as best we could to buy us time to really improve the situation for the long term. Phase 2: Start to implement the long-term solution while still carrying over the band aid solution as needed to bridge the gap between failure and success. Phase 3: Get back onto solid footing with a sales and marketing plan that is true to our vision and that sets up for repeatable, long term success. In essence, I was buying us time to get back to implementing the strategy and tactics that have made us successful for nine years. But I only had one shot. If it took too long, we'd run out of money. Plain and simple.

I am thrilled to say that it worked. We recovered fully and are now stronger than were were a year ago.

Those six months were the most defining moments of my career. They were immensely terrifying and rewarding at once. I made the decision to lean in and I stuck to it. When I made the decision in April, I didn't know how I was going to find the energy and the support to pull off my plan. And, even if I did find the energy and support, how did I know if I was smart enough, strong enough, courageous enough, to do what it took to make it happen?

Looking back now, I realize how powerful leaning in can be. That moment will be with me forever. It proved to me I have the courage to succeed, and that is an absolutely amazing feeling.