Monday, 18 May 2009

Logical Positivism - Leading Teams in (and out of) a Recession

If you were a visiting alien (and if you are, then welcome to our planet), you would know we were in an economic downturn within about 5 minutes of landing here. It seems every TV newsflash, newspaper headline and radio interview is designed to remind us how bad things are and what a mess we're in.

For what it's worth, I don't agree.

I think this 'recession' is largely the result of a media bandwagon and their (and the Government's) apparent belief that everything that matters happens in London.

I know many people have lost their jobs or had their savings and pensions devalued - but many millions of people have either been largely unaffected or are actually better off as a result of falling prices and reduced interest rates. Personally, I don't give two hoots about the city (with either a big or a small C). OK, I know the stock market affects all of us eventually, but I perceive that the real source of the pain we suffer is our own willingness to be persuaded that all is doom and gloom and the resulting loss of confidence.

So my point is this.

As a leader, I've said in many previous posts that, above all, it is your job to inspire and to motivate.

This requires you to develop and use the ability to remain positive in the face of adversity and to spread enthusiasm and a can-do attitude throughout your team and your organisation.

Experience (and history) tells us that the best organisations prosper in a recession - weaker competitors fall, their customers seek to move to credible alternatives and staff will commit to (or at least tolerate) difficult changes that bring the hope of survival and future prosperity.
It can be a time of great opportunity, where the weak grow weaker and the strong grow stronger. The leader's job is to lead people away from lemming-like fear and weakness and help them take advantage of the many benefits that a recession can bring for the good of your organisation, their colleagues, themselves and your customers.

I'm not talking about blind faith here; just logical positivism. People need a leader who exudes legitimate self-confidence and has the capability to back it up with leadership action. Businesses who actively seek to gain competitive advantage in a downturn often make huge strides - those who retreat, cut, shrink and panic often fail. It's survival of the fittest.

If you've ever watched Cesar Millan on his TV show, The Dog Whisperer (and if you haven't, you should - it's some of the best leadership training you'll ever see - for more info ), you'll know he sets great store by exuding 'calm, assertive energy' and the establishment of 'rules, boundaries and limitations'. He may be talking about training a dog, but the capabilities and characteristics of a 'pack leader' in the canine and business worlds are remarkably similar!

I urge you to look afresh at your market and your organisation, to see the opportunities that are and will become available and to take positive action to lead your people to take advantage.

Calm, assertive energy.


  1. I agree that PART of our job is to inspire and motivate. However, the key element of our job is leading change and change initiatives. Not all of these changes are things we particularly initiate - market forces drive us into having to take on new technology, we have find ways of responding to competitors and we have to respond to demographic forces too. In my experience organisations have their change vision but they under communicate that vision, sticking to speeches and e-mails. For me an effective vision has to include not just new strategies and structures but new and aligned behaviours on the part of the SENIOR EXECUTIVES. Leading by example means just that - spending dramatically more time with people on the frontline, pulling the plug on pet projects that don't measure up or contribute to the vision. People watch their leaders closely, particularly their line managers. It doesn't take much in the way of inconsistent behaviour to fuel cynicism, frustration and discontent to the workforce.

  2. Indeed!I would argue though, that leading change requires you to inspire and motivate too... otherwise you're just in charge of the change and that's a very different thing from leading it. I very much agree with what you say about the need for the senior team to live the vision and walk the talk at the sharp end. In my experience, too many top managers view that as an optional extra, rather than a large part of the job - too busy being busy and going to very important meetings that have nothing to do with leading the vision.... don't get me started!

  3. It was only by chance that I found this blog and I am stunned. I had assumed that I was paddling my own canoe against the tide. Whilst I have been in leadership positions for over thirty years it took me at least twenty to realise the priority of being proficient and experienced as a people manager, that if you succeed in having the best products, the best technology, the best marketing, the best sales and service quality procedures, without the allegience, dedication, energy, excitement, determination of staff you will never optimise performance over the long term. Too often organisations are run by "mechanics", proficient in finance, risk, treasury and other technical functions which deliver results in the short term. Those organisations which succeed in the long term have "engineers" at the helm and take an holistic, long term approach to management and performance and the survival of the organisation. Of necessity a realisation that you have to satisfy the expectations and requirements of individuals to maintain cohesion and minimise conflict becomes a priority; they call in kyosei in Japan, where profit is the end product of a dynamic business community. I have been a guest speaker on this subject but have been met by silence, confusion and disinterest. The inability to manage people and put these capabilities centre stage is fundamental to the prevailing financial and economic collapse of the Anglo-American economy.