Businesses that win in a downturn provide clear direction in the face of uncertainty, reassuring when necessary, all the while continuing to push for results. Their leaders create energizing, engaging work climates by using the full range of leadership styles, as discussed by Hay Group‘s Mary Fontaine:

  1. Effective leaders create clarity and buy-in while keeping people focused on the work at hand. They do this by being authoritative – creating the vision, providing the context and gaining commitment. They know it’s important not to leave employees in the dark about the company’s strategy and are aware of how an information vacuum is immediately filled by rumor. These leaders make decisions quickly and then communicate them. Rather than concentrating on negatives like cost cutting, redundancies and closures, which leave employees feeling fearful and helpless, they focus people on what they can do to feel empowered and energized and help the company through the downturn.
  2. Occasionally during times of real crisis leaders become coercive, directing people to specific actions and warning of the consequences if they are not followed in a timely fashion. When the airliner recently crashed into New York’s Hudson River, for example, the passengers were told to move directly to the exit doors and out onto the rafts or the wings. Such direct leadership can become overbearing or downright boring if overused, but it undoubtedly saved lives that day. It has also rescued more than a few floundering businesses.
  3. When required, effective leaders reach out to others for help and expertise, taking a more democratic approach. But they do so only after they have framed the issue and established the parameters. For people to be involved in the decision-making process they must have the necessary clarity. It is difficult to arrive at the best course of action if they don’t know the ultimate objective. Once the playing field and the rules of the game have been authoritatively laid out, a team can develop an innovative approach through active participation.
  4. Good leaders are supportive. In times like these, a little affiliative leadership can also be important. People are scared. They’re worried about their jobs and their ability to pay bills and their self-esteem is often under attack. Sometimes the best leadership involves just bringing in the lunch, listening and understanding.
  5. It’s also important continue to coach and develop people. They may not hold regular, coaching sessions. They may be too busy dealing with the crisis at hand. But in those quiet moments, perhaps at the end of a meeting, over a beer or glass of wine, or in the parking lot at the end of a long day they take a few minutes to listen, to help, to provide a bit of feedback and to impart a bit of wisdom. Such coaching moments can be brief but profound.
  6. Effective downturn leaders become more visible, using elements of the pacesetting style. By putting your shoulder to the wheel and leading by example, you demonstrate that you are there with employees – and for – them. However beware, your role is to lead, not micromanage or disempower employees. If you spend too much time in the weeds dealing with the detail, you will miss critical opportunities and subtle shifts in the bigger strategic picture. Use this style sparingly.

Read more here:  Crisis leadership:  it’s a question of style

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