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The Noise is Deafening!

July 26, 2010

A good client of mine confided recently how devastating the experience of running his business has been for him over the past two or three years. He talked about uncomfortable decisions he was being routinely required to make to keep the business afloat, like which suppliers to pay and when, which facilities to cut back on, to sell or to close down, and whether or not to lay off employees, many of whom were known to him personally. All this grief has been going on at the same time as he has had to negotiate new contracts with customers, trades unions and suppliers to give his business a good chance of returning to profitability when things improve. To say that he has felt a bit stretched is an understatement, and he confessed to me that he was feeling bad about having neglected his leadership, an aspect he has worked hard on for the twenty years I have known him. I am wondering how the experience of the past few of years will affect him and other thoughtful leaders like him in the future?

For consultants like me, it is extremely tempting to watch what is happening in businesses out there, to take the moral high ground, and to offer what is sound, well principled leadership advice that is meant to be helpful but is in fact worse than useless. And the fact that social media have become so easy and cheap to access has given us a even bigger platform to broadcast our perceived wisdom. Whether it’s because of a general state of under employment or not, we’ve all been making a lot of noise lately!! However, my suspicion is that the last thing leaders are doing right now is reading the outpourings of people like me. They’ve got much more challenging things to be getting on with!

A shock to the system is well known as a call to action, and economists like Anatole Kaletsky are predicting a new era for capitalism. But will there be a new era for Leadership? People-centered approaches to management (à la Tom Peters!) have been widely espoused for years, but cynics would say they have been ‘talked’ rather than ‘walked’! The dominance of western style scientific management has had a stifling effect, especially in larger companies. But with the future continuing to look much less certain, maybe now is the time for a sea change in approach for many managers? My hope is that the current economic turmoil will be the catalyst that jolts managers and organizations into a new era of productivity through people.

I know many managers who are still caught up in Shock and Anger responses to their current work situations. The big moment of truth comes when they feel ready to move into Reflection and then make up their own minds on how they are going to Operate going forward. Then we will all see what the shape of post recessionary management looks like, and whether healthier organizations emerge like the proverbial phoenix from the flames?

We are doing our bit on this blog to encourage and inspire leaders by showcasing examples of what we see as the future shape of winning organizations. We’d love to hear any real cases that you know of, and any other points of view you have about the challenges ahead.

Reference:“Capitalism 4.0: The Birth of a New Economy” Anatole Kaletsky;

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