LEADERSHIP SKILLS IN A TIME OF CRISIS

Several events shaped our history in the past few months. First, there was a downturn in the US economy—what has been called the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930's. Second, after what has been called by many political analysts, marketing and advertising experts, and historians as "the greatest campaign in history," Barrack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. Whether this is seen as good or bad, one thing is for certain, it has signified Change, and with it, many uncertainties.

For this month's NewsLinc, we are melding those two themes together—crisis and leadership. Leadership is even more important in times of uncertainty because it helps organizations and people rise to the challenges they face. While this may be the gift of Change Leadership to the United States, this is the challenge and responsibility of every business leader in the corporate world.

Clarke Murphy, who heads the CEO Search Practice for Russell Reynolds, talks about three crucial leadership skills needed in a time of crisis: Communication, Agility, and Decisiveness. We at Linc would add a fourth one: Inspiration.  

COMMUNICATION. Those in leadership positions take primary responsibility for communication since subordinates take cues on how to communicate from those above them. 

Communication is especially important in crisis times because knowledge and information is necessary to make informed decisions. Giving people "an ear and a say" gives them the psychological space needed to give this information to you. For the CEOs and Executives, there is an understanding that middle managers may be the most important people in your organization right now. They know how stuff really gets done, they know what and how to motivate their people since they're with them every day, and they know the customer well enough to get to the truth of your product. It is important to listen to them and get them onboard when you make important decisions. 

AGILITY. Business agility is about strategic alignment - changing the way your organization behaves more quickly than ever before. There is a need to be able to respond to competitive pressures, regulations, legal rulings, market trends, economic movements, and more. This is a leadership in tandem with policies and processes that facilitate speed and change. An organization that is agile relies on the ability of its participants to rapidly evaluate feedback and emerging data, in order to continuously learn and evolve as needed. 

The leader at its helm is one that allows contradictions to happen and constantly challenges the status quo in order for change to occur, even as he makes sure that the internal/organizational trauma resulting from the change is minimized. 

DECISIVENESS. Nick Woodeson of WorkLife Balance and Extensor.Com points out that decisions which are timely and effective bring sound direction and momentum in any organization, while indecisiveness in leadership brings about organizational frustration, confusion, worry and inefficiency.  

Decisiveness makes sound business sense as well.  In surveys of project delays and overruns, the number one underlying reason cited is delayed decisions. When a project or a business enters crisis and new management is called in, it's decisiveness that makes all the difference – and often the decisions made are those that could already have been made, which would have prevented the crisis in the first place.

INSPIRATION. In a survey of more than one and a half thousand managers, people were asked what they would most like to see in their leaders. The most popular answer, mentioned by 55% of people, was 'inspiration'. Inspiration is about giving people the ability and desire to exceed expectations. Dwight Eisenhower would put it this way, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." 

Going against the usual thinking, inspirational leaders do not have to be extroverted and charismatic. In fact, many leaders are quiet and introverted; but they lead by providing an inspiring vision, by encouraging entrepreneurial creativity within their organization, involving everyone, by coaching, mentoring and training their people to greatness, and by building teams that really work—matching jobs to talent and not necessarily to experience. They also have the uncanny knack to make business fun for their people. 

In a world where change is constant and uncertainty is the only certainty; organizations need people that can read the signs of the times, communicate these back to their organizations, even as they make sure that the organization is agile enough for whatever changes might come their way. Difficult and timely decisions will then have to be made; even as they equip and inspiretheir people with the tools needed to exceed expectations for the challenging times ahead. 

A daunting task for sure. And years from now, we will look back at this crisis, and see it for the turning point that it is. Whether it will be seen as a problem or as an opportunity will depend on what we do today and the skills we have in our leadership tank.


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