The poor state of the economy and the impact that it is having on virtually everyone is a subject on every person’s mind today. Almost daily, the newspapers report the dismal economic statistics, another massive layoff, plant shutdowns, sluggish sales and growing unemployment. The country is clearly in the throws of a significant economic downturn, and it will continue to have a major impact on almost everyone.

The 1980′s and 1990’s were truly the golden years for most businesses. Growth was the order of the day and the opportunities for success were plentiful. Now, the golden years are clearly over. Businesses are laying people off, cutting back, and positioning themselves to survive.

As clearly stated over and over by Tom Peters in his many books on excellence and also by other writers on business success, a prescription for success in the past is no guarantee for success in the future. As explained by futurist Joel Barker in his tape series “The Business of Paradigms”, when the rules change, the slate gets wiped clean, and everyone has an equal chance of success in the future.

Today, the rules have clearly changed and this is the biggest challenge for the 21st century. Unfortunately, most businesses leaders are preparing for the years ahead in the same way they prepared for the eighties and nineties, and these formerly successful strategies are destined to fail. In these difficult economic times, new approaches are required to succeed and prosper. Now more than ever, what it is going to take to survive is leadership. True leadership must include the following:

A vision for the organization – Essential to any successful organization is a powerful vision for its future. A powerful vision serves as a source of inspiration for the employees, unleashing their creativity, productivity and effectiveness. Without such a vision, work quickly becomes exactly that, work, sapping people of their natural aliveness and motivation and leaving them feeling disempowered and resigned. No organization can be effective under such circumstances.

A classic example of what a powerful vision did for an organization was what President Kennedy’s vision of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely did for NASA. The circumstances for NASA in the early sixties were certainly no better than those facing us today. At the time of Kennedy’s famous pronouncement, NASA did not have the money, the rocketry, the materials, the computer technology, the manpower, or anything else needed to accomplish his stated objective. Yet, the vision was so powerful and so compelling that it mobilized thousands of people into action, and on July 20, 1969 the mission was accomplished.

In an organizational setting, a vision for the organization is equally important, although it obviously does not have to be so grandiose. It should, however, include a statement of the organizations fundamental commitments and values; its commitments to its customers, to the quality of its work, to its employees and owners, and to the community in which it operates.

An empowering culture – Whereas the vision sets forth the fundamental purpose of the organization, the culture provides “the rules of the road”. Every organization has a culture, but unfortunately it is usually not one that is consciously and thoughtfully designed. In most organizations, the culture permits idle gossiping, complaining, competition, a short term focus, and many other behaviors that disempower by pitting individuals against each other. If an organization is to survive in the 21st century, it is going to have to develop and implement a culture designed to inspire people and to forge people into a cohesive group. Everyone in the organization must be aligned on a common future and must operate according to the rules of team. The culture must empower people to build relationship and promote communication. In the years ahead, those with the greatest commitment to quality and excellence are the ones that will have the greatest chance of survival. Essential to success will be a culture designed to promote this. An environment that eliminates gossip and complaints, resolves competitive tension, focuses individual achievement on the success of the entire organization, and provides customers with more than they expect, will be absolutely imperative.

Goals, objectives, and a plan – A critical element of leadership is clarity as to the goals and objectives of the organization and a plan for their achievement. Most organizations fail to complete even a one year plan, let alone a five year plan, and both are critical. A strategic objective, a comprehensive picture of where the organization will be and what it will look like in five years, allows people in the organization to see their future through the organization and mobilizes them into action to achieve that future. Furthermore, with a strategic objective, management can establish yearly objectives, monthly goals, and weekly targets. These elements serve to focus people’s activities and tends to take the power and energy existing in the organization, which is typically scattered in a number of different directions, and align it on a defined future.

The strategic and yearly objectives also form the basis of designing a plan. As the Cheshire Cat told Alice in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter what path you take.” If an organization doesn’t have a clear picture of the future that it is committed to, it’s impossible to create a plan to get there and to mobilize people to action. It is the job of leadership to make sure that everybody is clear about and focused on the future the organization is committed to.

A suitable organizational structure – The final essential element of an organization well structured for the challenges ahead will be an organizational/power structure which “pulls” for the fulfillment of the organization’s mission. Most organizations attempt to operate by committee or consensus. While it seems like a reasonable approach, it is neither efficient nor effective. In most organizations, once the leadership has aligned on a vision, a culture and a strategic objective, what will be necessary is for someone to assume the responsibility of leader and for all others to be committed to empowering that leader.

The primary job of the leader then becomes keeping the vision alive and in front of everyone in the organization and making sure that the culture is understood, appreciated and followed. Another function of the leader is to make sure that the goals and objectives are understood, regularly reviewed and updated and that a plan is established for the accomplishment of all objectives. A third function of the leader is to hold people accountable for fulfilling on their commitments and keeping their promises, for no organization can succeed if people don’t take seriously what they take on. The final function of the leader is to make sure people are acknowledged and rewarded for the contributions that they make to the organization.

The fundamental role of everyone else in the organization is to empower the leader. This involves listening, embracing the vision, being willing to make commitments and promises, being willing to be held accountable and, above all, making the leader right. People in organizations must understand that their interest is served only when the leader wins and that everybody loses when the leader is criticized or otherwise made wrong.

The importance of leadership in these times can not be ignored or minimized. Those in management that are presently operating under the old rules are already finding themselves having great difficulties. Continuing to ignore the realities of the present economic circumstances has already proven fatal to many organizations and will continue to claim casualties in the future. By exemplifying leadership, by mastering the elements discussed herein, the management of organizations can gain control over their futures and, with a great deal of predictability, insure not only their survival but their success.

Author's Bio: 

Scott Hunter, author, speaker and industry leader, helps people GET UNSTUCK.
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