Five Leadership How-Tos for Recession Survival
We're in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, and many people in leadership positions haven't seen anything like it before. As an executive coach, I know that leaders often make decisions out of fear of what could happen instead of crafting a plan to ensure that everyone stays on track through the bad times. Surviving a recession can feel a bit like sailing without sails, so here are a few tips to help you stop, think and weather the crisis:
1. Battle Workplace Anxiety
Workplace cultures are fragile. Employees get nervous when the economy turns sour: They wonder if they'll have a job tomorrow, let alone next week. If it isn't managed properly, such anxiety can pervade a business and have disastrous ramifications. Leaders have to assume a role beyond juggling their usual responsibilities to curtail fears about the future. Executive coach Mary Beth O'Neill discusses coaching CEOs and other leaders on people management in "Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart." O'Neill details how leaders can stand back from crisis situations and assess what needs doing first.
2. Know When to Take a Break
Even though leading an organization through a recession requires special effort, working yourself to death won't make it any easier. If people in leadership positions go on vacation, they often have one eye on their cell phones and the other on their laptops for most of it. Don't be afraid of daydreaming with a daiquiri during that long overdue trip: Recent research from the University of British Columbia finds that the human brain is actually working overtime to solve problems during daydreaming, while a 2006 study, recently written up in Kellogg Insight, touts the value of "deliberation without attention." So, take that vacation to clear your mind. It might be a better way to solve dilemmas than focusing on them all day, every day.
3. Delegate as Needed
Learning to delegate work is important because it means that someone else is doing what you've probably done for years. The less bogged down in detail you are, the better. Most leaders don't delegate because, at some level, they believe they can do the work better and faster. This thought process isn't useful and can reflect a micro-management style that is especially hard to maintain when times are tough, and employees are nervous. There is a link between feeling comfortable delegating work and emotional intelligence; perceptive leaders are better at reading people's natural talents and letting them take risks. For more reading on how to lead intelligently, check out Daniel Goleman's essential 2002 book (co-authored with Richard Boyatzis and Anne McKee), "Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence."
4. Rediscover Simplicity
Human beings often do things a certain way out of habit, not because it brings about the results we want. Many leaders are so busy that simplicity gets lost in their approach to work, but hard economic times can be a "reality check" for businesses and make inefficiency obvious. The "Keep it Simple, Stupid" principle has been around for a long time for a reason--it needs to be said regularly, albeit in a tactful way, to others and yourself. Management expert Ken Blanchard developed the concept of "The One Minute Manager," and in that book he outlines simple management techniques that focus on setting clear, attainable goals and continually re-evaluating progress.
5. Replace the Square Pegs
Above all, leaders must create tight-knit, confident teams to survive the recession, but there's no point in following the above principles if you have the wrong employees. Consider the time you spend trying to make difficult employees fit in with your workplace, instead of investing time into ensuring your business can work towards its larger goals. Take the time to get good people in place now, and with so many talented people out of work, this may be the best season to think about hiring. The recession will end, and when it does, you want to emerge with the strongest team possible.
What's helping you get through these tough times?
Note: Merydith Willoughby is an organization development consultant who delivers services to organizations in Australia and the U.S. Her second book, Sex in the Boardroom, was released in January 2009.
June 5, 2009; 2:08 PM ET
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