Leadership in a tough economy
Leadership is an ever-changing phenomenon. Last year’s meaning of leadership no longer applies. The plans you had in 2009 for 2010 might have easily been tossed out the window. So where do you go from here? What’s next? Although there is no easy answer to “How do you lead a company?” there are fundamental steps you can take to make sure you do it as effectively as possible.
It all starts with your people.
As a leader in this tough economy, there is only one thing that cannot be duplicated by your competition—your people. They are the ones who set you apart from your competitors, and they are the ones who will pull you through challenging times.
Companies have found themselves cutting back and having to make very difficult decisions. At the same time, it is vitally important that leaders focus on their people. Leaders, in general, tend to be very urgent about getting results and making things happen. However, now is the time to slow down and reflect about the future and who will drive it.
So what do you do? How do you stand tall as a leader to help your people through? You have to ultimately focus on what you have rather than get hung up on what you don’t have.
So what makes a good leader? How do you know that your leadership has what it takes to get your people through these tough times? Well, to say the least, leadership is changing. Leaders have to be smart and savvy as well as globally astute, technically sound and flexible enough to adapt to all the changes that are occurring. And it’s about reflection.
Although everyone is experiencing pressure to make quick decisions and take immediate action, now is precisely when reflection is most important. You can’t afford mistakes. Reflection is necessary for successful leadership.
It’s time to ask questions like, “Where do we want to be when we come out of this challenging time?” “Who do we want to be?” “Do we still want to be in business?”
If the answer to that last question is yes, then leaders need to think about how to position themselves for that. People hear this all the time, and it is absolutely true: Your people are your competitive differentiators. Anything else can be copied now in this world. Competitors are working harder and faster and can easily make your idea their own.
Sports analogies are often used in business, but, overall, sports are easier than business. In sports, there is a prescribed time, whether it’s four quarters or nine innings, and then it’s over. There are referees, and you’re actually able to look your competition in the eye.
Business, however, isn’t as easy. In business, your competition isn’t on the same field necessarily. They might not even be in the same hemisphere. They can be awake while you’re sleeping, and the game is never over. And even today, do you really know who your competitors are?
So ultimately, you want to make the most of your people’s potential; you want your leaders to be inspiring, and your company needs to do more with less. That starts with making sure that your top performers feel engaged and motivated to push through the storm.
Engaging Your Top Performers
Studies show that only 26 percent of leaders today are creating an engaging environment for their people. There is a common preconception about top talent: Top performers just need to be pointed in the right direction, and they will do the rest. Not so. Top performers turn to their leaders in times of uncertainty for focus, direction, motivation and recognition. The immediate instinct for a lot of companies going through these tough times is to pull back. But other companies understand just how valuable their best employees are and they are taking steps to prove it.
Employee engagement begins with leaders showing that they value their people and that they are willing to spend time and resources on helping them capitalize on their strengths.
“In order to keep these people with your organization, retain them and ensure they are engaged, you’ve got to be developing them,” says Moore. “That’s one reason people stay at organizations. When resources are being spent on them, they feel valued. It lets them know they are an important part of the organization.”
This can be done by creating appropriate development programs for both your leaders and your employees. Start by determining what your organization needs and what goals you wish to achieve. Then, you’ll be ready to assess what kinds of plans and programs are available to address the specific issues, challenges and objectives that matter to you.
A common misconception about development programs is that those who receive coaching or participate in development activities have done something wrong; need it to avoid termination; or require it because they just aren’t measuring up. But think back to sports for a moment. When was the last time you saw a professional athlete without a coach? Professional teams practice more than they play. The same holds true for business. Development programs make good leaders great and bring out the best in top performers, thereby helping them work together more effectively, function as a more cohesive unit and prepare themselves for challenges.
Especially now, with people being asked to do more and more with fewer resources, development programs are essential to the future of an organization. Development programs are entirely customizable based on the needs of the organization. Below are some examples of what some programs might look like. Companies will often use a combination of the ideas below or will seek out something entirely specialized to suit the company’s goals.
- Coaching. Customized, in-depth coaching process and developmental plan from an objective, third-party coach that helps pinpoint abilities, motivations and growth opportunities.
- Top Talent Retention. A consultant works one-on-one with top performers to help them assess their talents, identify hidden potential and clarify their goals, while linking their abilities and interests with the needs of the organization. Increasing top employees’ feelings of value increases loyalty and tenure.
- Validation Study. Process that helps a company get a clear sense of their top performers and their strengths, what distinguishes them and how to both hire people like your top talent and develop those who are currently on board who have high potential.
The key is understanding the talent you have on board. Whether you develop it through a company program or a formalized talent-development process, there is truly nothing more important.
Leaders are undoubtedly facing some tough challenges right now. So nothing is more important than who your company has on board and how much they believe in their leaders. And they are looking to leaders much more closely and intently than ever before. As markets collapse and jobs disappear, employees want two things from leadership: They want to know the truth about what is going on, while, at the same time, wanting leaders to replace fear with confidence. To have confidence, they need to know that your company has a plan—a plan to head straight into challenges and prevail.
While it may be hard to think of spending precious budget dollars on leadership and employee development when you have so many other matters begging for your attention, there is truly nothing more important.
|Meet the Author
Patrick Sweeney is president of Caliper, a human resources consulting firm located in Princeton, New Jersey, and on the Web at www.caliperonline.com.