As we reflect on the year 2009 — the financial crisis and the accompanying recession — we know that out of the chaos, we must relearn some basics and not return to business as usual. Shortcuts are out.
The Harvard Center for Public Leadership's 2009 National Leadership Index reveals that 69% of Americans think we have a leadership crisis in the country. Another 67% believe that "unless we get better leaders, the United States will decline as a nation." Over half (52%), believe that business leaders generally work to benefit themselves. Only 25% of Americans agree or strongly agree that business leaders or news media leaders share their values. And this isn’t just an American phenomenon.
As Pogo Possum observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The tendency is to catch our breath and just work harder. But we have to hit reset and work differently—to incorporate the larger picture; to not be so insular in our behavior. The Financial Times management columnist Stefan Stern remarked, “The reason why so many people want to get back to ‘business as usual’ is that that is what they do best. In fact, it may be all that they can do.” Overcoming inertia is going to be the challenge.
Back to basics. This doesn’t mean safe and boring or watered-down. These are bedrock principles that work. It’s when we try to take shortcuts that we get derailed. Consultant icon Tom Peters who has a reputation for being cutting-edge, has been relentlessly preaching the simple basics that work. And work globally. Basics are the new cutting-edge.
The present environment reminds us that leadership must exist at all levels. Everyone has a part to play. Sound principles take you through good times and bad. Business (and individuals) will have to focus more on training both on the job and off so that sound values and principles become everyday practice.
The books selected for the best leadership books published in 2009 help us to think differently; to incorporate lasting values; to answer the question, “How do we best lead?”