"Budgets are tight; we're cutting expenses; we've laid people off." These comments are ringing in all our ears, as we talk with current and prospective clients and in-house partners about leadership development during what arguably has been the worst recession in 75 years. No news here. Using a revered strategy called, "Leadership? Not Now!" halting educational activities during difficult economic times has occurred since the invention of the training budget.
But if we can take a cue from the world's Most Admired Companies, a far better approach—in spite of the economic challenges—would be "Leadership? Especially Now!" Earlier this year, Fortune magazine identified these highly respected companies and sought to determine what they had in common, providing a North Star for the rest of us coveting a position on this elite list. Contrary to what we might assume, the Most Admired Companies do not share common organizational structures or operating models, although they do resist incessant fiddling with either one, in contrast with their less-admired counterparts.
The most common denominator among the world's Most Admired Companies was a continuing commitment to identifying, growing, and nurturing talent in spite of the challenging economic environment. Of course, these companies review budgets and programs for effectiveness, ensure their development offerings support business imperatives, and design metrics to measure impact. But bottom line, they continue to invest heavily in their people.
We are living in a historic period of chaos and change. Organizations and enterprises face challenges that demand the absolute best their leaders have to offer, including the ability to replace their associates' fear and uncertainty with confidence and commitment. The world's Most Admired Companies recognize this truth and, as a result, most likely will exit the far end of this economic tunnel with stronger performance, increased market share, and a more capable and engaged workforce.
The noble title of "leader" is granted to those courageous people who mobilize others to overcome difficult circumstances and accomplish the extraordinary. "Why Leadership? Because We Need it Now!"
Steve Houchin, owner and Managing Partner of International Leadership Associates, has presented the Leadership Challenge Workshop® to mid-level and senior executives in corporations around the country for over 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org