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July 2009


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What You Need to be Doing Now
The recession will inescapably move you out of your comfort zone. The question is how will you respond?

Times of crisis demand so much more out of leaders. This creates the opportunity to develop your abilities to a whole new level. But not all leaders will rise to the occasion.

Geoff Colvin, Fortune’s senior editor at large and author of The Upside of the Downturn, writes, “Scientific research on great performance has shown persuasively that high abilities of all kinds are developed; they don’t occur naturally. The question of whether great leaders are born or made is settled: they’re made. The key to this development is pushing yourself—or being pushed—just beyond your current abilities, forcing yourself to do things you can’t quite do.

“Certain practices can make the experience especially productive. Coaching helps. Getting specific in your own mind about exactly which abilities you want to improve, and how, will turbocharge the results. But the main idea is that continually trying things you can’t quite do is what makes you better, and doing for a long time is what makes you great. And now, confronting the greatest business challenges to occur in generations, you’re being handed a chance to become a great deal better. It’s an opportunity that everyone faces but not everyone will grab.”

While Colvin offers much to savor and chew on, his list of five things that this recession demands from a leader are essential:

1. Stand Up and Be Seen. “This most basic requirement is important for a fundamental reason that is often forgotten: people want to be led.”

2. Be Calm and in Control. “People assume that the leader knows more about the crisis than they do and thus look to him or her for cues about how serious it is. The result is a clear example of self-fulfilling prophecy.”

3. Be Decisive. “Leaders in a crisis must not lose their rare opportunity to act. The difficulty is that just when decisions are most easily accepted, they’re hardest to make. All business decisions are made with incomplete information, and that’s especially true in the heat of a crisis. At the same time the stakes are higher than usual. Every instinct tells you to decide more slowly than usual, yet it’s vital that you decide more quickly.”

4. Show Fearlessness. “We want our leaders to show us that they are not afraid….to face bad news head on without cringing.” He adds, “Note that the advice here is ‘show fearlessness,’ not ‘be fearless.’ To suggest that you would be fearless would be ridiculous. But what counts is what you show.”

5. Explain the Crisis in a Larger Context. “Extensive research has shown that how people are affected by stress depends heavily on how they see it…. The challenge consists of giving shape to events that have occurred and are occurring, portraying them as interesting, normal elements of life that may be no fun but that we can deal with while learning and growing.”

On Monday morning, begin to emphasize these five behaviors and grow your leadership for this crisis and beyond.

Thanks for reading!


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