Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty

I ordered this book for work because a lot of our franchisees read it when the economy started tanking. I had read it a few months ago, but recently skimmed the whole thing to help for an article I was writing at work. I realized I didn't write about it here because it was a book for work, but why does that matter? I still read it. The book is geared toward business owners and executives, and I can definately see why it interested so many of our franchisees. For one thing, it's only 125 pages long, so it's not the drone on forever kind of tome that business books usually are. It offers practical advice, something else that's often missing. It provides overal suggestions for leading during times of crisis, then has specific chapters for CEOs/business unit heads, sales and marketing, CFOs, operations, research and development, the supply chain, supporting your staff, and the board of directors. It made it easy to read just the first chapter overview, then the chapter that most applies to your situation.

For the article I wrote, I pulled out his six essential leadership traits: honesty and credibility, the ability to inspire, real-time connection with reality, realism tempered with optimism, managing with intensity, and boldness in building for the future. Most of those are good leadership traits during any time, so I focused in primarily on the real-time connection with reality and realism tempered with optimism. Those are two items I'm trying to focus on myself as well. The first one means to be more connected with the people on the ground level. It takes too long for the information to get put into a database, sent up the chain, analyzed by the execs, then filtered back down to middle management. You have to connect directly with those people actually interacting with your customers to know what's going on right now. And you have to look at week-to-week comparisons, not year-to-year or quarter-to-quarter (of course I'd already learned that from Sasser!). In my own job, I've tried to stay connected with our franchisees to hear from them directly if things are starting to change in their markets, how things are going, what they're seeing. One of them recently had six direct hire orders in one week, so things seem to be turning around!
The other one I focused on was realism tempered with optimism. This is one I personally struggled with during the late spring and summer, when things were a bit crazy at work. How do you share bad news about sales numbers, layoffs, and pay cuts without scaring everyone? You want them to know the truth, and to be prepared, and to be able to know the facts so they can make changes, but you don't want everyone to panic and starting looking to jump ship. It's also hard when you don't necessarily agree with decisions that are being made to be able to convey that message with optimism to employees. You don't want to be dishonest and make it sound like you agree with the decision, but you don't want to be negative either. I usually try to deal with this by sharing as much information as possible in an unbiased way, and when it's clear I don't agree with something to at least try to explain why the decision was made and how it might not be what I would do, focus on the merit in that decision.

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