I draw a huge amount of inspiration from people who seem to be constitutionally incapable of capitulation. Had the privilege of listening to Jim Collins some time ago – he spoke of Steve Jobs and how in 1989 he had to be out of the organisation he had created. Well we all know of Apple’s position amongst the world leaders in innovation and in market capitalisation today. People like that are obviously very difficult to work with, unique and eccentric in their own ways. But they also have this great characteristic of refusing to give up, of bouncing back from the most difficult of situations. Truly inspirational! Resilience of the highest order you can say, but clearly much, much more.
Times are tough and will continue to be so for a while leading to a lot of hard decision making. Professionals as well as organisations are dealing with the emotional fallout of layoffs and cutbacks, of diminished expectations and dashed dreams. The recession has clearly been about failed institutions, failed systems and at best uninspiring, mediocre leadership. One has witnessed many companies struggling to string a compelling and coherent way out.
The situation is demanding answers of leaders. Since the objective is to create resilient organisations for sustained success, the expectation of the standard of leadership goes up a few notches. The other reality to balance is about the very here and now approach – thinking long term will come only after the immediate survival has been taken care of.
Given the paradox, what would be a good mantra for uncompromising leadership in tough times? Actions that would lead to an enormous amount of pride and hope, maintain employee dignity and commitment. Ultimately creating a high performance, highly engaged organisation. I will contribute through a few generic tips and as always, you all can add to enrich the discussion :
Inspire with realism and optimism – in hard times such as these, most of the staff goes through a combination of anxiety, fear and uncertainity. To inspire, you must be honest, authentic, credible – in a word, trustworthy. Leaders have to be frank, transparent and creative. One of the crucial attributes is to see and explain the situation as it is and not as you want it to be. Exude conviction and optimism that things will get better – positive energy is what you want to harness.
Communicate intensely – Over sharing of information in tough times is a great idea. Otherwise anxiety breeds too much of negative gossip. Share as much and early enough, communicate a message of direction and a plan that supports progress towards that. Look for small victories or turnarounds and share with the teams. Do not hesitate to speak about problem areas. It is amazing how people stretch and rally to overcome challenges if they are made to feel a part of it.
Define measures of success – people perform best when there is clarity on what is expected of them and how success will be measured. Monitoring – and therefore restating expectations – is required over shorter durations and thus a very hands on, execution oriented approach is needed.
External focus : there is absolutely no substitute for meeting customers, partners, consultants, consumers – whoever you can. All signs come from the external world and those connects are so central to revival that do not let such information be filtered through intermediaries. This helps define the way forward as well as course corrections.
Emotional linkages – this is my personal favourite – establishing bonds with employees at an emotional level generates immense passion within the organisation. People then commit to the cause and stay in it together to see any difficult task through – collective energy is known to move mountains! I understand this is an extremely tough one and will happen only through a combination of transparency, personal humility and a genuine concern for the welfare of the team. Partly a natural skill as well that everyone may not possess!
I am certain there are so many other actions you can do. Actually most of the above is relevant to leadership universally, not necessarily during the tough times. Just the level of intensity may differ though. I have generally followed them and enjoyed the benefits. Will be interesting to know of your experiences!
happy uncompromised leading!