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Six Principles for Leading During Uncertain Times
by James M. Citrin

TALENT MONGER
Six Principles for Leading During Uncertain Times
By: James M. Citrin
Date: January 31, 2002

Even the best executives can feel like they're daring the impossible these days. Here are effective leadership techniques to consider.

French philosopher Paul Valery could have been describing the year 2002 when he said, "The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." At a time when we can be certain only of continuous economic upheaval, geopolitical turmoil, and technological change, effective leaders are those who manage uncertainty effectively. No single trait or action is responsible for a leader's success. Different styles are appropriate for different situations. Nevertheless, apart from matters of personal style, most great business leaders follow a consistent set of principles:

1. Live with integrity and lead by example.

Integrity is the internal sense of right and wrong that guides everything a successful person does. Living with integrity and leading by example build the kind of trust that is critical for high-performance organizations.

2. Develop a winning strategy or big idea.

In an age of competitive intensity, a leader must develop a winning strategy based on a company's competitive advantages and customer needs. Not only must leaders come up with a big idea, but it also has to be the right big idea. Many companies have come up with bold strategies that are wrong or for which the timing is off. The key is to build on the core things that the organization truly does best -- and bridge this to what matters most to customers (as defined by what they will pay for).

3. Build a great management team.

As Michael Dell told me, "One person cannot do anything alone." The best business leaders nurture highly successful management teams built around complementary skills and shared values. Nowhere is the need to create a great management team more crucial than in startups where entrepreneurs are attempting to grow a fledgling company into a successful, sustainable corporation.

4. Inspire employees to achieve greatness.

Employees today are looking for deeper meaning from work. Successful business leaders know how to tap into employees' deepest motivations and desires by emphasizing the higher purpose of their organization. On a day-to-day level, great leaders also empower their workers by being supportive and getting out of their way as much as possible.

5. Organize for flexibility and responsiveness.

In an interview I had with former GE chief Jack Welch, he spoke of "the power of informal." With information technology facilitating instantaneous global communications, today's successful business leaders know how to break down slow, overly formalized hierarchies and decision-making processes. The important thing is to have the right people solving problems -- no matter where they are located, geographically or hierarchically, in the organization.

6. Implement consistent management systems.

To be most effective, a company's values and strategies should be reflected across all company management practices. Take a good look around your organization, and make sure your performance-measurement techniques, compensation practices, and information system protocols are in line with your leadership principles.

The bottom line for effective leadership is this: When leaders follow a set of clear, enduring principles, traditional measures of corporate performance tend to improve as a natural result. And that, in turn, provides a clear road map for finding success in uncertain and volatile times.

Date Posted: 01-Feb-2002

Editor's note: This week's column is excerpted from James M. Citrin's new book, Zoom: How 12 Exceptional Companies Are Navigating the Road to the Next Economy (Doubleday, 2002).

 
 
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