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Leadership Lessons for Hard Times

A series of interviews during the 2009 Crisis with CEOs sheds light on the foundations of corporate leadership.

Be transparent with employees . . .

The only way to address uncertainty is to communicate and communicate. And when you think you’ve just about got to everybody, then communicate some more. Being open about what is happening in a company is partly a question of integrity: employees deserve honesty. Openness also builds respect, trust, and solidarity, all of which in turn help employees stay focused on the task of running the business even if remotely during a time when financial rewards might be limited and the future uncertain. Be transparent with employees . . . Few predicted the magnitude of the current COVID 19 crisis. But those in the corporate world who first detected—and accepted—the fact that this was a potential global event have a distinct advantage in implementing strategies to help weather the storm. Getting ahead of the curve means taking a hard look at what the future might hold, and that requires a degree of courage. It can be hard for leaders to take action—and to persuade others to follow their lead—if a business seems to be thriving.

Build and protect the culture....

Stay focused on culture, people, and values: it’s the area most likely to get compromised in this environment.

A healthy company enjoys not only strong financials but also a culture and values that bind it together. Much of what our interviewees describe as important is driven by corporate culture—open communication or a focus on a company’s long-term health, for example. Several CEOs chose to highlight how a strong culture had helped them in hard times and how important it is not to sacrifice that culture when a company comes under pressure.

Keep faith with the future... If you don’t invest in the future and don’t plan for the future, there won’t be one.

CEOs and their leadership teams need to remain forward looking despite the near-term pressures their businesses might be facing. There are opportunities in a crisis, even though that notion is too lightly bandied around when companies and their employees come under real stress.

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