The Crisis and Your Career: An Opportunity or a Threat? 2-4

Pepper de Callier

The conventional wisdom is that this recession has not yet reached its depth in Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the leaders I have talked with over the past three months tell me that the worst of this won’t reach us until the end of the second quarter of this year, and it will be at least six months to a year after that before we begin to experience any recovery—which is expected to be weak and slow.

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that this is going to be with us for a while, which makes it crucial that, from a career standpoint, you understand what’s going on—not just from your own personal viewpoint, but in a more holistic way and how all the pieces fit together.

There are many demands made on leaders in times like these. Investors, analysts, communities, lenders, customers, not to mention their employees, create a very complex, interconnected, sometimes conflicting and counter-intuitive maze in which leaders must decide which path to take—often with incomplete data because of the speed with which things happen today in this hyper-connected global economy. Believe me, as you begin to realize the variety, intensity and magnitude of the demands on a leader right now, you realize that it’s not all that comfortable in the back seat of that luxurious A8 these days.

Good leaders, however, realize that times like these are the moments in which their careers as leaders will be defined and they accept the challenge because good leaders like challenges. They are confident about their abilities to listen, learn, assess, synthesize and act.

So, what should we be expecting from our leaders in these uncertain times? Tomas Sabatka sets the stage nicely, “Leaders—good leaders—are not waiting on orders from anybody. They must be proactive.” And, proactivity on the part of a leader begins long before a crisis. Proactivity is a cornerstone of competent leadership. Mike Short adds an interesting twist: “In a well-run company, a crisis should not lead to radically different behavior.” Short’s comment is a wonderful insight into the mind of a calm, deliberate leader, and it speaks to more than just being proactive. Yes, as a leader you are expected to anticipate—anticipate any number of events that may affect your business, but what Mike Short’s comment also addresses is consistency. Consistency is a trademark of good leadership, Sabatka explains why, “External forces are always at play in good times and bad times. But when you are consistent in your values and ethics, you are predictable, you are reliable.” In other words, aside from expecting our leaders to anticipate change, we should expect consistency from them. Why is this important? Sabatka again: “Because when we know, through the consistent actions of leaders, what their values and ethics look like, we can predict a likely course of action they will take, such as doing what is right—right for the company and for all its stakeholders.”

Short ties it together by explaining that long after this crisis is over, vendors, banks, customers, communities, and employees will remember the actions of the people who led others through these times and will respond to them accordingly. So, this crisis is a branding event for leaders, too, as they demonstrate how they balance the short-term demands of this situation with the long-term impact of their actions.

What should we expect from a leader if layoffs are imminent? Jane Hannah: “Good leaders must protect the long-term viability of the company, but they must also have empathy for those whom they lead.” How does one demonstrate those traits and skills simultaneously? “By consistent (there’s that word again) communication. If there’s going to be a layoff, tell everyone what the process and structure of it is, how it will work and why this decision must be taken. Keep them informed. Then, they must know that you will support them after the fact with things like counseling, how to put their resumes together, how to go about identifying their next opportunity, networking techniques, and making sure that there is someone for them to talk to as they go through this process. This demonstration of empathy sends a strong message to all stakeholders about the quality of the leader and the company, which will pay substantial dividends long-term.”

What are leaders looking for from you? What are they looking for when they have to make those tough decisions about who will stay and who will go? Magdalena Soucek leads us into this part of the discussion with a real gem, “Leadership qualities can be displayed at any level in an organization. In a downturn, we look for those who are models to those around them, who offer constructive ideas, who ‘live’ the culture of the firm, those who accept situational and temporary inconveniences knowing they are necessary and that they won’t last forever. Attitude and enthusiasm are powerful differentiators.”

Great insights from our panel of leaders, but what about specifics? What must you do to fulfill these expectations? In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a look at the questions you should be asking yourself and offer some suggestions of things you might want to consider doing to set yourself apart from the crowd in ways that express enduring and valuable contributions.