Great necessities call forth great leaders ~ Abigail Adams
It is said that difficult times will produce the leader needed, and some people point to the rise of Churchill in the Second World War as the leader that Britain desperately needed. It certainly worked for them. However for every winner there has to be a loser, so what does Abigail Adams have to say about the leadership of Hitler during the ‘great necessities’ facing Germany at the end of the war?
Since we are dealing with adages; here’s another one “…prosperity stunts the ability to lead in turbulent times.” A long spell of complacent prosperity, such as we have enjoyed over the last decade or so, is more likely to throw up indifferent leaders than the more difficult times ahead. When things are going well, ineffective leadership is not so noticeable; when times are good for companies, mistakes and errors may not lead to catastrophic results, and incompetence can masquerade as competence because there is no immediate and overwhelming need to change,
Leaders can quickly become accustomed to success, and forget the principles and conditions that are the keys to achieving it. It is only when times turn rough that we find out which of our organisations have been well led. Perhaps that is why when difficult times arrive our leaders are winnowed and the wheat rises to the top and the chaff falls to the ground.
So what are the principles that underpin leadership quality? They are simply the basics. The basic understanding of what the role of a leader is, what the attributes of leaders are and the qualities that we expect from our leaders. These are the basic things which can get buried in the years of good times, but are vital in times of crisis.
Leadership in difficult time starts with confidence. The leader must have it and must be able to instill it in the team. Churchill said, “I am not usually accused even by my friends of a modest or retiring disposition.” – he certainly had the self-confidence needed to lead Britain. And by his example and by his inspiring speeches he instilled the belief in the people of that country that they would succeed.
Leaders also recognise the part the team played in the success and Churchill never forgot that in the long run it was the people that bore the brunt of the difficult times and needed to feel that they had won through on their own merits. He admitted “It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”
Hitler, on the other hand demonstrated how a leader who forgets the simple principles of leadership deteriorates as the crisis worsens.
So it is worth taking time now, while times are just becoming difficult, to ponder on what the fundamentals of leadership are.
· Vision – having a vision of what the future may hold has long been a fundamental of leadership. At the moment it is vital, a true leader has the ability to look beyond d the here and now and make preparations for what lies ahead. And it is this ability to sense the impending changes that differentiate between good leaders and great leaders. Great leaders would have recognised that all was not well and put into place strategies which should help the organisation survive the turbulent weather ahead. If that vision has been lacking the challenge now is to find the far-sighted strategies which can minimise the impact.
· Deciding the Direction – The vision shows us what needs to be done, while the direction establishes the way is which it is to be implemented. This is a team responsibility, because while the vision is confidence building, it is in the implementation of it that the organisation will survive or fall. In difficult time directions need to be flexible, there needs to be a degree of re-active rather than pro-activeness planned into the decision making.
· Making Decisions – in good times – in calm waters – we have the time to ponder and weigh up our options; but in rough weather there is a tendency to feel that decisions must be made quickly – the crisis is at hand the decision has to be made now. But the decisions made by the leader need to be the right ones for the situation and must be able to maintain the strategies which the vision has shown to be needed. While there is no time to waste in decision making for survival, they must still be effective to guarantee survival.
This is a testing time for leaders in business, and it may be that we will find that years of prosperity have induced an air of complacency. But in hard times it is the tough leader that will win through. Those with a thorough grounding in the basics, in the fundamentals of what it means to be a leader.
The best chances of bringing problems under control and restoring confidence lies with leaders who are able to apply the principles of leadership in a new and challenging way.
So it seems the catch cry should be “Back to Basics – quickly!”
Michele @ Trischel