Transition requires leaders to be extraordinarily disciplined around the five basic rules of leadership. Under stress, the tendency for most folks will be to play to their strengths – to do what they are best at. Too often, that is holding small, high level meetings. We have been hearing a lot of stories about leadership teams holed up in their boardrooms, trying to figure out a plan for going forward. These smart, analytical people are trying to think their way out of crisis. Thinking is good, but taking action and connecting with others is equally important, if not more so.
These C-level leaders need to be doing five things, not one thing. These are, in fact, our Leadership Code. We arrived at these five dimensions, or rules, through research and through in-depth discussions with the most recognized experts in the field of leadership, both academics and practitioners.
Rule 1: Shape the future. The Strategist dimension of the leader answers the question “Where are we going?” and makes sure that others understand the direction as well. These leaders both envision and help to create the future. They test strategic ideas pragmatically against current resources (money, people, organizational capabilities), and work with others to figure out how to get there. In tough economic times, strategists set priorities and make sure that the organization allocates the right attention to the right things.
In tough times: Manage the paradox of being open-minded about the possibilities while also staying rooted in reality by involving customers, employees, and other key stakeholders in strategy development and alignment. Also, target key customers and investors to focus your strategic investment.
Rule 2: Make things happen. The Executor dimension of the leader focuses on the question “How will we make sure we get to where we are going?” Executors translate strategy into action by making change happen with clear accountability, intelligent decision making, and teamwork. Executors put systems in place. In tough economic times, leaders focus even more on getting things done. They reduce risks by making decisions quickly and aggressively.
In tough times: Ensure a clear line of sight between the short term and the long term as you engage yourself and others with clear accountability and certain consequences. Make sure you meet your promises by boldly implementing change.
Rule 3: Engage today’s talent. “Who goes with us on our business journey?” Leaders who are talent managers know how to engage others to get immediate results by identifying the required skills and drawing the right talent close: communicating well, ensuring resources and a positive environment, and connecting the individual to the mission. Talent managers generate intense personal, professional, and organizational loyalty. In tough economic times, leaders also remove poor performers, demand productivity, and communicate even more clearly to those who stay what they must do to survive.
In tough times: Be willing to make difficult people decisions quickly and fairly. Communicate to those who stay their importance to your firm. Continue to be open to outstanding new talent who might help you go forward.
Rule 4: Build the next generation. These leaders answer the question: “Who is our next generation?” Human capital developers install the longer-term competencies for future strategic success. Just as good parents invest in helping their children succeed, human capital developers help future leaders be successful. These leaders build a workforce plan focused on future talent, develop that talent, and help the most valued employees see their future careers within the company. While hard economic times tempt leaders to delay investing in the future, leaders in tough economic times jump on the opportunity to secure the new talent whom the times have made accessible.
In tough times: Make sure that the people who are key to the organization’s future see how they will fit into its success, and what they need to learn and do to make that happen. Build a workforce plan consistent with your strategy.
Rule 5: Invest in yourself. At the heart of the Leadership Code – literally and figuratively – is Personal Proficiency. Effective leaders cannot be reduced to what they know and do. Who they are as human beings has everything to do with how much they can accomplish with and through other people. Leaders continuously learn, particularly about their passions. They bring out the best in others because of their own integrity and trustworthiness. In tough economic times, these leaders are calm in crisis, confident in uncertainty, and grounded in fundamental principles and values instead of quick fixes.
In tough times: Do what you need to do for yourself to bring your best self forward. Be in front of your employees. Be confident and candid as you build your credibility.