None of us yet know how hard the economic challenges are going to be, in 2009. But beyond the current events lies interesting opportunities.
What steps can leaders take to move on the opportunities, while at the same time paying attention to all the demands of the moment? What can great leaders do to move decisively forward in a world turned upside down?
First, figure out how to survive. Given that, leaders need a plan that allows them to move fast, faster than before.
Many economies either didn't see or didn't believe common metrics of economic and financial distress before the recent crash and crisis. What metrics should a leader be looking at now? Which ones from the past still give useful leading indicators? What else might leaders need to look at?
A good leader must increase his or her forums for listening at the edges, for creative dissent. The leader must ensure that he or she has an inner circle of people who will never allow the leader to fall into the destructive cycle of hubris and denial.
Second, the leader needs to ask what can be done now that couldn't be done before. This is the crux of successfully taking advantage of a world turned upside down. How can the leader position himself or herself now, so that he or she will be better off than before, once the turmoil is over?
Does the current turmoil accelerate and even necessitate major shifts in tactics and strategies in the next 12 months--shifts that better position the whole party or organisation but would have been impossible to execute just six months ago?
Does this crisis allow the leader to dramatically improve loyalty? Are there things the party or organisation can do that will make a difference to people caught in these difficult times?
And within the leader's own organization, is the leader facing squarely how quickly the dynamics of talent retention have changed?
What might a good leader do differently to increase the party or organisation's talent base?
The leader needs to ask himself or herself: Might this be a time to promote some of the best high potential people, without worrying if someone else feels passed by?
This is an opportunity for the leader to reorient the party and organization around value, in terms of roles and responsibilities.
No whining. The leader may find himself or herself thinking, more than once, I didn't create this crisis. Why me? Why should I be stuck with dealing with it?
It's very tempting to feel aggrieved, but, instead, the leader should step back and ask himself or herself in the truest spirit of Norman Vincent Peale, Why not me?
Leaders in crisis put aside that very understandable anger and instead are glad, even honored, that they are in a position to respond to a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances.
The leader needs to remember that the people around him or her may be dealing with the fallout of the crisis in many ways that may not be visible. The leader needs to have compassion for them, and mitigate their hardships with opportunity, inspiration and the call to hard work.
Beyond this crisis is a new landscape, one that will define the arcs of opportunity and prosperity for decades to come.
The leader needs to uncover the opportunities that reach beyond survival, guide the country, economy or organisation to get there and extend a helping hand to as many as possible along the way.
The costs of the economic turmoil are high--way too high to go to waste.
P.S. The above may also be applicable to political turmoils.