Many senior leaders are under extraordinary pressure. It’s lonely at the top, and employees are looking to their leaders for inspiration, direction and protection.
The stakes are high. How senior managers lead in these difficult times can be the difference between the organization failing, surviving or thriving.
C-level executives are the final decision makers; they have ultimate authority and responsibility for meeting internal and external challenges. Strategy — what businesses (and their people) put their attention on — will define success or failure.
As an executive coach, I observe many leaders. The best “strategic” leaders stand out because they:
- Anticipate the future, keeping the organization agile and “nimble” and effectively adapting and sponsoring change to meet shifting challenges/ opportunities.
- Develop strategy that balances long-term goals with immediate organization needs.
- Leverage, engage and empower (not inhibit!) human capital to operate at its full potential.
- Develop and communicate a clear plan with priorities and course of action (providing a “rudder” for navigating stormy seas).
Here are some of my coaching suggestions to help senior leaders successfully chart the course ahead:
- Develop strategy to maximize and support your existing resources. Identify key internal resources (those with a track record in meeting challenges, with the necessary leadership and critical skill sets) and external resources (customers, consultants and supplier/service relationships). What would the impact be if you lose your top salesperson, your largest customer or if your key supplier goes out of business next week? Your plan should address how you will retain and build credibility with key staff and customers. Deliver clear messages to help you stand out in the marketplace (and keep customers loyal). Make sure to include contingencies in your plan.
- Provide focus. Make sure your people are working on the “right” priorities. As a coach, it astonishes me how many bosses are unaware of what their employees spend their day-to-day time on. Find out. Have your reports define what they do, including what and how they prioritize their work. Make sure they are aligned with current strategy, then support them in achieving prioritized goals.
- Help staff deal appropriately with escalating stress levels. Consider tactics such as a “state of the union” company meeting or offering professional conflict resolution training. Many competent managers I coach confide in me they are ill-equipped to deal with the trauma/drama involved with today’s emotional, stressed-out employees and customers. They need tools and techniques to “de-escalate” themselves and upset customers or coworkers.
- Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Think strategically; cut back smartly and continue to invest wisely. Strategic leaders understand the importance and impact of continued investment in critical areas such as IT, R&D, motivating employees and effective leadership/employee development. These are still (and will always be) key success drivers. Broad-brush layoffs should be a last resort as most companies have a significant investment in their human resource capital. Layoffs are often counterproductive. While they may appear to solve short-term financial problems they often create a climate of uncertainty for remaining staff and customers.
- Respond to new business opportunities as a result of current market conditions. The present crisis is an extraordinary opportunity for those well-positioned to capitalize on opportunities — but only for those who have their eye on the big picture.
- Reward and motivate your best; view them as a resource to be leveraged vs. a “cost” to be reduced. Keep talent engaged, inspired, supported and appropriately rewarded, or risk losing them. My coaching phone is ringing with uninspired and unsupported talent (most who haven’t told their bosses they are leaving) because they feel unappreciated, “hung out to dry” or underutilized. Times like these present a unique opportunity to either “poach” talent away or to secure talent that isn’t typically available. The best are rarely (if ever) “out in the streets,” even during tough times like these. Top performers understand their value and will find an environment where they can succeed. Recognize that losing talent often equates to losing key company knowledge and customer relationships.
- Clarify for those worried about “job security” how you measure success. In the end, the best job protection is generating value in excess of the expense you carry. These days organizations can’t afford to carry “dead wood,” “coasters” or “pretenders.”
- Get support. Find someone to talk to about doubts, fears and overcoming challenges. Executive coaches can provide support, an objective perspective and insight to help increase the probability for success. The best will help you figure out how to focus strategically and get out of your own way.
Wise leaders use external executive coaches as an objective sounding board and for competent guidance with the people challenges they face–I help leaders anywhere in the world via Skype – call me 360 682 5807.