The Leadership Traits of Recession-Proof Leaders.

Leadership Traits of Recession-Proof-Leaders – Part 1

Financial MeltdownThe sudden and unprecedented financial meltdown of 2008 has left its mark on the psyche of the nation. Millions of people are showing physical, emotional and behavioral signs of shock. Employees are coming to work with huge levels of anxiety and fear, they have seen their neighbors, colleagues, spouses and family members lose their jobs. They are frightened, insecure and anxious beyond description. Their world feels very unsafe.  They have lost confidence in their leaders and in their institutions. Many are taking medication for sleeplessness and stress. The reality is that people in this condition cannot deliver superior performance. And organizations need superior performance more than ever before.

I would suggest that the very first step of action for all corporate leaders, at all levels, is the renewal of the spirit of your employees (and yourself) so that you have the capability to build a sustainable organization.  This means that you will need to acquire leadership traits and skills that are more relevant to the current difficult climate.  These skills are not the kind of skills you will find on the curriculum of any normal leadership development programs.  Nor are they simply improved management skills but rather behavior and communication skills focused on how to lead a traumatized workforce – what to do and say to employees who are hurting and how to move them swiftly through this fear and anxiety so that they can deliver significantly increased productivity, reduced operational costs, increased innovation and enhanced revenue.  Yesterday’s leadership style will not suffice.

Allow me to share a story.

Nelson Mandela and South Africa


Nelson MandelaI have seen the current scenario in the USA before. In February 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison and became president in 1992.  I was still living in South Africa and was lucky enough to consult to the leaders of the major organizations in South Africa who were faced with having to literally transform their leadership style in order to connect with millions of disenfranchised, dis-spirited employees who had suffered terrible inhumanities as a result of apartheid.  It was critical that they achieved this and became more productive because sanctions had been removed and South African businesses were competing globally once again.

In my work with these leaders I discovered that there were those who could make the leap from the old South Africa to the new – and those who could not. The successful leaders were those who were able to truly understand the pain of the employees and acquire new behaviors and communication skills that renewed the employee spirit and created corporate growth.  In every single case, the companies that were unable to transition to the new South Africa were led by leaders who could not let go of their outdated language and behaviors and were unable to bridge the gap between themselves and the employees.  These companies did not make it.

This was when I discovered that the spirit of the people in an organization is a financial asset and that the level of spirit determines the level of productivity. Fast forward to the USA in 2008 and what we have is an almost identical challenge here albeit for different reasons.

Recession-proof Leaders Understand the Business Implications of Shock

Whether an event is experienced as ‘shocking’ depends on enormity of the experience and the adequacy of the person’s defenses. The events of the past months have indeed been enormous and the unpreparedness of millions to cope effectively with this has put people into shock.  This represents one of the greatest challenges of corporate leaders in 2009.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross & Loss

As in most situations the employee’s shock is related to loss – the loss of a way of a way of life, a home, a job, money, 401k’S, trust, respect, security…and the list goes on and on.  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, famous for her work on the 5 stages of loss, describes these stages as:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance.

With acceptance comes the will to move forward.  According to Kubler- Ross it is not possible to skip one of these stages but it is possible to move through them more quickly.  The American people range from being angry, to bargaining that the new president will make things right again, to feeling depressed about their current situation, then swinging back to anger and so on.  I would guess that your employees are swinging between anger and depression.  And there is a great deal that you as their leader can do to help your employees move quickly through this and build their courage to move forward.

But you need to know how!  Part 2 will step you through the three phases.

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