Leaders in Good and Tough Times

Travelling this big old world changes one’s outlook very quickly.  Depending on where you are in the world the outlook, for the future, is very different.  For example, recent trips to India, China and the Middle East clearly show that a positive “gung ho” attitude  exists.  Business is booming and people are smiling.  Lots of companies are, quite candidly, going through good times.

On the other hand, North America – particularly the United States – who is still working through corporate scandals, the “sub-prime” crisis, a real-estate crisis and quite literally facing the possibility of a recession- the outlook, for the future, is somewhat worrisome.  The truth is, lots of companies are going through tough times.

However, in every part of the world, business leaders and their followers are also facing the skyrocketing costs of fuel – an economic environmental factor that is affecting everyone and everything.

The reality is, in an instant, good times can become tough times.  The interesting thing about good times and tough times is that they can have simultaneous existence. That is, an organization going through good times can actually have a department, division or area that is going through tough times.  An organization that is going through tough times can have a department, division or area going through good times.

Organizational leaders recognize the style of leadership that they exhibit must be one that is flexible and adaptable to the realities of the organization.  Corporate leaders may not be able to control the overall economic environment in which their corporation exists, but they can control how they and their people respond to it.

Let’s take a look at the range of behaviours that a leader would exhibit in either good times or tough times.

Good Times: Organizational

When an organization is consistently meeting it s performance targets and goals, senior executives will promote vision and mission as a strategic guide.  Clearly the opportunity to push the boundaries of geography, target markets, product and service range exists.  Taking calculated risks is encouraged.

Keeping the organization challenged, or stopping it from becoming complacent, executive leadership will typically champion for increasing value to Customers, Employees, & Stakeholders.  The strategy is to improve the value proposition for all key stakeholders.


As executive leaders interact with employees, at all levels, they will solicit “strategic” feedback about “where should we go to next” and “what should we do or offer next”.  In addition they would be emphasizing or encouraging employees to find new ways to complete tasks.  From a task point of view the organization would have the opportunity to adopt the ESSA orientation to work and work processes.  ESSA is Eliminate, Simplify, Standardize, Automate work flow or processes.  The whole idea is to keep the organization focused on the longer term while continuing to execute work activities in a high-quality and professional manner.

The key for continuing success is to concentrate on building the business by establishing clear long term goals.


People are an organization’s primary resource and as such, leaders would role-model high personal standards while creating enthusiasm and energy for the future of the organization.  When discussing the future of the organization with fellow employees they will use rational discussion to gain commitment – i.e., a common sense approach to building and sustaining a relevant business for its key stakeholders.

Of course one of the things that everyone recognizes that the future cannot be truly predicted – other than it will be different from today.  Change is the constant.  Leaders recognize that the way in which they can increase the organization’s capacity to flex and adapt to changes in the world, or market is to “train for tomorrow by emphasizing knowledge acquisition”.

Furthermore on the people front, leaders will generously reward outstanding performance knowing that this is a key for keeping performance at a high level.

Tough times: Organizational

Assuming that the value proposition that the organization offers its customers is valued, the leaders will, during tough times, focus on the near term and quite frankly promote vision and mission as the core purpose of the organization.  Straying too far away from the stated vision and mission would be resisted.  In effect they have little appetite for exploring new markets, new product or services introduction.  The orientation towards the business and its products is about “improvement”.

Leaders, at all levels, will champion for organization values where they exist.  In organizations where there isn’t a formal set of values, then leaders will, often unconsciously, champion 2-4 important business builders such as: “look after the customer”; “be professional in everything we do”, etc.


Recognizing that the time horizon that is on a leader’s mind is “right now” and “close up” they will invest their time soliciting “operational” feedback and clearly will be emphasizing the “flawless” execution of all tasks.  They will concentrate on ensuring that everyone is doing exactly what is expected in a timely and quality manner.

Often during tough times, when leaders interact with their people about the work itself, we’ll hear them talk about goals and standards.  They will concentrate on running the business using short term goals.


It is during tough times that leaders really shine – they shine so much that they will concentrate on “creating light” for their people.  That is they will help ensure that their people are really quite hopeful during a difficult time.  That they can and will overcome any issues that they –collectively — have.  Basically, leaders will use emotional discussion to gain involvement.

Recognizing that during tough times the key organizational priority is to execute quickly and efficiently then they will invest, the few dollars that may exist, into skill development programs or activities.  After all if current performance is low, then chances are the key problem is skill.

Encouraging employees to continuously strive for excellence in everything they do, requires leaders to generously praise performance as outstanding.  When they see a good effort, even though it may not be perfect, they will acknowledge it in a positive manner.

Leaders know that there will be good times and tough times followed by good times and tough times. The cycle is perpetual.  During tough times, leaders communicate to build the confidence of their people. During good times, leaders communicate to build the competence of their people. In either good times or tough times, the mark of a great leader, is to emphasize the right things, in the right way, at the right time.  Flexibility and adaptability of style is the key to achieving higher levels of organizational performance and higher levels of employee engagement.

Sid Ridgley, CSP

Tel: 888-291-7892

Sid Ridgley, is an experienced corporate executive and Certified Speaking Professional who specializes in helping leaders create operationally effecitve ideal places to work and to do business with.  Sid can be reached at sid@sidridgley.com.


©November 2012

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