During turbulent times, everything speeds up. The pressures of shifting emotions, processes, and demands increase as more and more is expected from everyone. You are simultaneously juggling the daily needs of the business, caring for the wounded, and helping pick up the pieces. Because these difficult periods are stressful, leaders must rapidly and proactively convert emotions into actions. Leaders must concurrently take care of themselves and everyone else. This takes time, patience, empathy, a willingness to shift priorities, and communication - constant communication, even "overcommunication." The leaders who lead "out loud" - those who maintain transparency, approachability, and integrity - are the ones with whom people want to work, in good times and bad. And these are the leaders whom others seek to become.
After our CEO at Satyam, Ramalinga Raju, confessed to "cooking the books," the entire situation was surreal. We went from a celebrated company to being immersed in scandal. The huge scale and impact of Satyam's downfall were clear in the headline of The Economist's cover story - "India's Enron." BusinessWeek featured a photo of Raju on the cover with the headline "From Icon to I Con."
So began the journey toward a different strategy for leaders, which included new behaviors, competencies, and expectations to control the damage and rebuild what could be rebuilt. Leaders went on autopilot when it came to management; they went to work assessing the situation, implementing customer-retention measures, and shoring up the business. However, these same leaders were unsure how to handle the people and relationship issues. This was not due to a lack of desire. It was more about the lack of comfort that comes from having to communicate, empathize, and support people throughout a difficult time. And this was a time when our employees most needed those things. Neglecting your employees during a crisis is a mistake and can lead to a backlash - so ensure that your leaders are equipped to care for their people.
Twelve leadership guidelines
The approach that works best in this situation is leading through learning - which primarily entails developing leadership guidelines. It is simple and powerful. Leverage learning to assist leaders with the complicated people and relationship dimensions of the business. Develop a set of leadership guidelines. Communicate and teach them to all leaders. Use these guidelines as the basis for coaching conversations. We developed 12 guidelines as part of our leading through learning strategy. Use these guidelines as a basis for your strategy, or adapt them to your unique situation:
- Understand that we will never get back to normal.
- Take care of one another.
- React... pause... respond.
- Talk - even when you don't believe there is much to say.
- Be visible - now is not the time to play hide-and-seek.
- Maintain integrity and high moral values.
- Optimize costs, with retention in mind.
- Be a brand ambassador.
- Assess and rebuild trust.
- Remember, leaders are human, too.
- Think like a child.
- Take care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Note: This article is excerpted from Riding the Tiger: Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times by Ed Cohen and Priscilla Nelson
Priscilla Nelson and Ed Cohen currently lead Nelson Cohen Global Consulting where they develop and implement leading through learning strategies for organizations.
Nelson has 30 years of experience helping global leaders with their strategic career development. A founder of the Hyderabad India Chapter of the International Coaches Federation, she is actively involved in ICF, SHRM, and ASTD. She has master's degrees in human resources economics and counselor education.
Cohen has 30 years of high-impact, global experience, he loves strategies, developing executives, coaching, and building great teams. He is the only chief learning officer to lead two companies - Booz Allen Hamilton and Satyam Computer Services to an ASTD BEST Award #1 ranking.
2010 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.