Leadership skills and tools are more important than ever in troubling economic times. Indeed we do not “want to waste a good crisis” as John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems claims! Ruth Gerath, President of Gerath & Co. and an NSS Ambassador, provided us with a thought provoking piece on leadership and how we might lead in uncertain times.
The Emperor has Know Clothes
Sometimes we look for something new when the old is what would work best. I was thinking about that, and about writing this article on leadership, when I heard a piece on the radio about a fellow in England, a consultant, who promises his clients that at the end of his team-building program their employees will be so comfortable with, and trusting of each other that they will happily work together in the nude. The host was interviewing a business owner who had hired this man. Okay, I’ll bite, I thought as I shoved my skepticism aside.
The owner said that he had been looking for a way to get his team to work more collaboratively in order to generate new ideas for weathering the current financial storm. I imagined his entire staff in a conference room for two days, knowing what the end game was, and wondering how fast they could contract swine flu.
The host asked the obvious, burning questions: “So, did you actually come to work nude at the end of the program?” To which the man responded that indeed he had. “Did you drive to work nude, or change at the office?” Turns out the brave fellow left his home, got into his car, and drove to work in the buff. “Were you concerned about others seeing you in the car?” inquired the host. He was not because he left the home very early, missing the morning commute traffic. Somehow that felt like cheating to me but I decided I should give the guy a pass – perhaps I was being a bit too picky.
By this time I’d forgotten all about my annoyance at the lack of business impact questions and was going straight down the path with the host. What did this guy look like? Was he in shape? Would it be more daring a deed if he weren’t? What did his employees look like? How many men versus women were in the group? Did they look at each, or just pass in the halls, eyes downcast, slinking to their desks when they arrived sans clothing? Did they bring towels to sit on?
Unfortunately for my voyeuristic curiosity, the host didn’t go there and I was left to create a scene in my mind – which I did. In fact I created several.
Personally, I would have found a good reason, like surgery, to avoid that particular team-building experience. But the larger point is that finding effective ways to deal with challenges is a hallmark of great leadership, and one need not take extreme measures to make an impact.
A current example of strong leadership in this economy is Cisco Systems’, CEO John Chambers. In a July 28th, 2009 interview with Michael Malone of The Wall Street Journal Mr. Chambers said, “You never want to waste a good crisis.” He should know; he’s been through many, starting with overcoming dyslexia to achieve both a law degree and MBA, to bringing his company back from the tech bubble implosion. Today he’s transforming his company, which includes an ever-expanding stable of acquisitions, from a command and control leadership style to one of collaboration and teamwork, because that is what he sees as the future. He openly admits that he’s more comfortable with a command and control leadership style, but says that it won’t continue to work as the internet drives behavior, both business and personal, to a collaborative, team based experience. His senior staff has to make that same mental leap now that the company is moving to a shared responsibility model of leadership.
Leaders like John Chambers are looking beyond the current economy and asking themselves important time-honored questions like: What do I need to do today to best position my company for the future? What can I do to inspire my team with my vision? Does the company’s culture foster collaborative teamwork? Do I enable my team to speak openly about new ideas and business solutions? Questions like these lubricate the mind and keep old thoughts from constantly running on the same mental tracks, leading to the same destinations.
Leaders inspire. They light the path for others. Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your destiny.”
Effective leaders challenge and fine-tune their thoughts, words, actions and habits regularly. They ask probing questions of themselves and of their people. These skills are as old as leadership itself. They’ve stood the test of time – because they work.