About the Crisis Leadership Forum

To better understand the leadership dimensions of crisis situations, the Center for Creative Leadership convened a forum with formal and emergent leaders who played a role in Hurricane Katrina. We overlaid this conversation between crisis leaders with the perspectives of discussants with expertise in disaster, terrorism, public health, and leadership. This blog site is intended to continue this conversation.

To read the report on the Crisis Leadership Forum, please click here.

To read CCL's Leading Effectively newsletter on the Forum, please click here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Financial Crisis: A Corporate Leadership Game-Changer?

Crises necessarily challenge assumptions. And certainly the recent turmoil on Wall Street has shaken many assumptions about economic and financial stability. Looking back on 2008, however, what can we learn about corporate leadership and management? In the Jan. 19 BusinessWeek cover story, titled “Managing Through a Crisis: The New Rules,” senior writer Emily Thornton suggests that current economic conditions have fundamentally changed how business leaders should make decisions, and that within economic turbulence resides new opportunities.

In the article, Thornton mentions several ways in which the decision-making milieu for managers has shifted, including reduced consumer confidence, tighter credit, the prospect of stricter regulations, and general ambiguity about both current conditions and future prospects. Furthermore, she discusses five specific sets of productive actions taken by chief executives in 2008, specifically:

  • Change your mindset. Recognize that market conditions have changed, and that those changes should call into question many aspects of how you’ve traditionally done business.

  • Get your financial house in order. Make tough choices, possibly including eliminating lines of business and issuing more stock, to strengthen your balance sheet and to secure your firm’s fundamental financial health.

  • Make a move for market share. Focus on your core business and be on the lookout for newly available resources, both human and asset-related.

  • Rethink your reward system. Avoid cutting compensation across the board; instead, find non-monetary ways to reward employees and improve morale.

  • Dare to innovate. Taking the time and effort to innovate during the downturn could open new doors in the future. It’s risky, but may result in high returns.

The past year has forced us to think differently about what it means to undertake risk. Additionally, it seems that obtaining actionable information about potential risks is becoming increasingly difficult. It may not be a lack of information that fuels this difficulty; rather, it may be that managers today have such an abundance of information to process—via numerous financial reporting services, for example—that they cannot reasonably evaluate competing courses of action. Much of 2009 will be about figuring out what exactly happened to markets during 2008, but whether managers can use that information to guide their firms successfully remains to be seen.

This entry also appears at Organizing for High Reliability.