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Best Leadership Techniques in Troubled Times

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® (SAC) asked its global membership to evaluate the current best practices for leadership in tough times. Here is a representative sampling.

Gayle Lantz is president of WorkMatters, Inc., a leadership consulting firm based in Birmingham, Alabama, She specializes in leadership development, executive coaching and performance improvement.

She states the most effective leadership technique has to do with asking good questions to stimulate thinking and prompt action. "The key to running a successful business has to do with not only the quality of the talent in your organization, but the quality of thinking you do as a leader."

Effective leaders welcome questions that challenge their own thinking. They also challenge other people by asking questions like, "What's a possible new solution we haven't considered?" "What are your thoughts about how we can work best together?" Questions like these are framed in a positive light and help engage employees to produce best results.

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach and president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management firm in San Francisco, California. He specializes in executive selection, executive coaching, career coaching, and leadership development for developing emotionally intelligent leaders and lawyers. He offers a few insights:

With the current state of our economy, it's easy for some leaders to feel helpless.

The result is in an inability to motivate and inspire their people and possible business failure.

The first step in getting out of this place of resignation is tapping into your self-awareness the foundation of emotional intelligence. You need to be aware of paralyzing beliefs before you can change them. The second step is to question the beliefs underlying your resignation. What would you have to believe to feel the way you do?

"Our business strategy isn't working and I don't know what to do".

Is this true? Can you really know? Or is it just a belief that you bought into?

The third step is to generate a new belief and then take actions that support it:

"Our leadership team can create an innovative new strategy that will succeed in today's challenging business climate".

You can buy into the story of hopelessness or you can create a new story of possibility and opportunity. Proactively changing your story and underlying belief will help reenergize you and get your business back on track.

Scott Simmonds is an insurance and risk mitigation consultant from Maine. In his practice he sees good leaders and, well, the not so good.

"I don't see that there is one best leadership technique," says Simmonds. "Different situations call for different approaches. What works in one environment may not work in another. What is successful in one company may not work in another. The demands of leadership can change hour by hour within an operation. A real leader is flexible enough to understand the difference in what is required in specific situations.

"There are common traits within leadership techniques. Individuals and the team must understand what is expected of them. What is the desired result? What are the objectives? Expectations also extend to how an objective is approached. The ends do not justify the means."

Jennifer Selby Long is an executive coach, leadership consultant, and founder of Selby Group, a strategic organizational development firm in Oakland, California. , She specializes in executive coaching, improving organizational performance, leadership development, and team building for leaders of small and mid-size businesses and divisions of large organizations. She offers a few insights:

"In my 20 years of collaborating with business leaders, I have found that frequent communication is the most effective leadership technique during tough times. Nobody trusts a silent leader, and yet, during troubled times, so many executives roll up their sleeves and get to work, alone and with each other, to address the challenges of the business. They feel like they are spending a huge amount of time communicating but on a scale of 1 - 10, it's actually a 2 or a 3, when the stakeholders need a 9 or a 10.

"Weekly or bi-weekly communication is not too frequent in many cases. The less people hear from you, the more nervous they get, so speak up. For many businesses, the situation is changing rapidly, and the worst choice is to wait for the time "when things settle down" so you can 'announce something substantial.'

"When you communicate, be sure to cover what's going well in the business, challenges presented by the economy, and your plan to address these challenges. Talk about what you anticipate will happen and how you're planning for it. If you need to cut certain projects or programs, explain why.

"Ensure that you allow at least 30% of your time for Q&A. Collect questions on an ongoing basis or 1 to 2 days in advance of meetings so you have a sense of what is on their minds and can prepare your comments accordingly."

Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc. notes, "In my experience both as a former VP of operations and as a business process consultant, there is no doubt that the most effective leaders value simplicity. The leader who is able to break down complex business topics into simple, understandable and executable communications and actions will deliver bottom-line results."

"In our rapidly changing world, agility is becoming more and more critical," observes Ann Latham, president of Uncommon Clarity in Massachusetts. "Companies need to leverage the eyes, ears, and brains of everyone in the organization. To that end, the most important responsibilities of the leader are to communicate a clear vision and create an environment that empowers employees to act on that vision. Such an environment requires fearless communication, constant learning, respect for all, and prudent risk-taking."

Alan Weiss, Ph.D., the CEO of SAC, summarizes this way: "This economy is exacerbating strengths and weaknesses. The good leaders are standing out in a crowd and the weaker ones are being fired. Anyone can lead in great times, but these current conditions will highlight who the best really are."

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