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Robert Meganck


Leadership in Hard Times

Robert Meganck FROM THE EDITOR Leadership in Hard Times L EADERSHIP IS never easy, but it’s

L EADERSHIP IS never easy, but it’s incredibly tough right now: The global financial system is basically paralyzed, the recession is the

worst we’ve seen in the better part of

a century, and trust in institutions and

the people who lead them is at an all- time low. Who better to put the subject of cri- sis leadership in perspective than Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential histo- rian? Goodwin has written extensively about Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the two presidents who led the United States during its big- gest crises: the Civil War and the Great Depression. She combines a shrewd understanding of how these leaders shaped their times and a profoundly empa- thetic sense of their emotional makeup. Her Different Voice conversation with senior editor Diane Coutu is about political leadership, obviously, but the lessons Goodwin synthesizes work as well for business leaders as they do for politicians. Her advice? Hire the best possible people to work for you, even if they fought you for your job. Surround yourself with a team of people who can challenge your thinking and whose strengths make up for your deficits. Share credit with your closest colleagues, so that they’re fully committed to your mission. Be sure to communicate, often and authentically,

with your larger public. And don’t forget to relax. (FDR hosted

a cocktail hour every evening, during which it was forbidden

to discuss either politics or the war.) If you’re leading an organization through this downturn, you’re undoubtedly introducing major changes – and inevi- tably encountering resistance to them. According to Jeffrey Ford and Laurie Ford in “Decoding Resistance to Change,” it’s wise to engage with the resisters, learn from them, and alter your course if they suggest smart adjustments to your initiatives. Your biggest critics can be turned into your best advocates if you have the courage to listen carefully. This advice feels all the more important right now, given that an

organization’s very survival may depend on making the right changes. Two articles in this issue focus on how to hold on to – and better serve – cus- tomers during the recession. “How to Market in a Downturn,” by John Quelch and Katherine Jocz, advises managers to resegment their customers on the basis of their recession psychology:

Some consumers slam the brakes on their spending, but others don’t change their behavior much at all unless they lose their jobs. It’s essential to know which are which – and that’s not always easy to predict. In “Five Rules for Retail- ing in a Recession,” Ken Favaro, Tim Romberger, and David Meer note that retailers have been hit especially hard by this downturn. They suggest, counterin- tuitively, that retailers have the most to gain from catering to less-loyal customers rather than to new or loyal customers. “What’s Your Google Strategy?,” by Andrei Hagiu and David Yoffie, will help strategists think through how to work with powerful intermediaries like Google, Amazon, and Blu-ray. They can help your business grow – and they can also cause its demise. Tread carefully. In “When Internal Collaboration Is Bad for Your Company,” Morten Hansen notes that cor- porate leaders are so taken with the idea of “breaking down silos” that they rarely do a cost/benefit analysis of boundary- spanning collaboration. Turns out that plenty of collaborations should never get the go-ahead. Rounding out the issue, “Pre- dicting Your Competitor’s Reaction” outlines a surprisingly simple method that Kevin Coyne and John Horn developed for anticipating how other companies will react to your next strategic move. During this tumultuous phase of history, the economic landscape changes daily. For timely commentary on the lat- est developments, please visit our recently relaunched web- site (hbr.org), and let us know what you think of it.

–The Editors


Harvard Business Review | April 2009 | hbr.org