Crisis or Opportunity? – Lead like Barack Obama

Dec. 1, 2008
In recent weeks, our headlines and the world’s attention have been directed towards two things, the U.S. presidential election and the drastic downturn in the economy. These issues are both separate and related.

Corporations of all shapes and sizes across all industries are looking at the best course of action they can take to withstand today’s economic pressures. Most see the situation as a crisis, some see the opportunity; Warren Buffet, for example, is investing, while others are in a state of panic.

I would suggest that as well as looking at what they can do, corporations also should look at who! Not only do they need to examine what course of action they should take, but also who they have in a leadership role that can carry them through.

Let’s take a look at the leadership style of Barack Obama. Put your politics to one side for now and consider the qualities of the person. Is this the type of leadership that you would like to have in your organization? In listening to 2 hours of CNN the night after the election, here are a few of the words various people used to describe him:

  • Competitive
  • Winner;
  • In touch with his people
  • Smart/Intelligent
  • Calm; Gracious
  • Empowering
  • Inspiring
  • Trusted
  • Respected
  • Honest
  • Knows it’s not about him
  • Visionary
  • Great communicator.

I am not sure if it is possible to compile a more impressive list of leadership qualities. Barack Obama has inspired an incredible sense of hope and community. He has proven that by working together and uniting around a common sense of purpose and vision we can achieve the impossible.

Now’s Not the Time to Cut Back on Leadership

How many leaders like this do you have in your organization? How many will you have a year from now? For many, the gut reaction is to slash all discretionary spending. Cut here, cut there and ride it out. To every CEO and executive team I would suggest this is the worst possible course of action you could take.

Of course, we all need to exercise fiscal restraint and think carefully where we allocate our resources. At my company, we are in constant discussion with all our clients as to how they can stretch their dollars further and strengthen their leadership in a cost effective way. But to put your people on hold is mistake.

Now is a time for innovation, inspiration and leadership. Visionary companies and leaders will be looking not just to ride out the storm, but to be prepared to emerge stronger than ever and be ready to seize the opportunities when the recovery begins.

Consider these words from Jerry Grandey, the CEO of Cameco Corp., the Saskatchewan based uranium mining giant: “When the times get tough, the last thing companies should do is make sacrifices on the human side. You should do the exact reverse. When times get tough, it's the leaders that you have that are going to carry you through it.”

Leaders are going to be making a lot of decisions. Leadership development, team building, inspiring top performers and overall employee unity is essential to weather the economic storm.

Courses of Action

What is your course of action? You can dwell on the crisis and retreat into a corner and hope everything turns out ok, or you can lead like Obama: look for opportunity and inspire your own employees with hope, vision and a sense of community.

Bryn Meredith is a principle of Bluepoint Leadership Development. He has extensive experience as a business leader, entrepreneur and leadership development specialist. Bryn can be reached at [email protected].

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