Lead or Fail: Successful Leadership in Turbulent Times

Guest post written by Scott Span, MSOD for Linked2Leadership
on June 8th, 2010

Leadership isn’t what it used to be. The corner offices are slowly disappearing. The days of barking orders and
expecting people to blindly follow are over.

Accountability, responsibility and transparency are on the rise – though someone
should tell that to
. Workforce demographics and diversity
are changing. The days of leading like Franklin M. Hart Jr.
are over.


It Ain’t Easy

This is not to say that being a leader was, or is, ever easy; or that
earlier fundamentals should be tossed aside. However, in tough times,
remaining a great leader can be even harder.

So what makes a successful leader in turbulent times? First and foremost, the
ability to adapt your leadership style to changing environmental
influences is key to being a successful leader. Jim
Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup
says that “in the new normal,”
old ways of doing business won’t work anymore.

“The men and women who will conquer this new world will be the ones who best understand their constituencies’ state of
mind.” ~Jim Clifton

By state of mind, Clifton is referring to new revelations being uncovered by behavioral economists — starting with the
discovery that human decision-making is more emotional than
As a leader, Clifton shares a similar mindset to many
behavioral scientists and organizational development practitioners.

His view is that one of the most fundamental states of mind that leaders need to understand is the
needs and desires
of their employees: “…their will to work, their
will to live, their will to revolt, their will to follow you.

Another element of state of mind is emotional affect: “how much stress
your constituency feels about money, about trying to get to work, about
their relationship with their boss.” Clifton believes that to be a
successful leader you have to firmly understand states of mind.

In his view, everything important; everything human comes
down to states of mind. The leader who is the best at understanding,
relating to and communicating states of mind will be the one who wins.

Not that leadership is about winning or losing, however it sure is about winning
those you lead. As an organizational development practitioner
and behavioral scientist, I share Clifton’s views; understanding and
exhibiting certain human behaviors help to shape great leaders and great

“Leadership is best viewed through the eyes of the follower.” ~Tom Schulte


Behave Yourself!

Here are some behaviors of great leaders during turbulent times:


People can usually tell when “something is up.” So before the rumors begin flying and productivity is impacted,
leadership should tell employees. When making strategic decisions,
determining organizational changes or facing issues that impact
employees, successful leaders need to be transparent with their
workforce about how these matters arose, their thought process for
dealing with them, and how their solutions may directly impact those
they lead.


Being in a leadership position can sometimes be a solitary role. Often leaders
make decisions in a vacuum and rely on managers or supervisors to
communicate important information downward. Successful leaders lead
through two-way communication. Much of it is nonverbal. For instance,
when leaders “set the example,” that communicates to their people that
they would not ask them to do anything that they would not be willing to
do themselves, this only helps to make leaders seem more human to
employees. Particularly in turbulent times, people value direct
and communication from leaders. This not only helps to
show that leaders are remaining committed to the people in organization,
but also offers an opportunity for them to step out of the “tower” and
build relationships with employees.


Trust is a fundamental behavior for any relationship, both personal and
professional. According to a study by the Hay Group, a global management
consultancy, there are 75 key components of employee satisfaction (Lamb
& McKee, 2009)
. They found that: Trust and confidence in
top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee
satisfaction in an organization. Trust must be earned. Leaders can earn
employee trust by helping employees understand the company’s overall
business strategy, informing them how they contribute to achieving key
business goals and sharing information with employees on both how the
company is doing and how an employee’s own division is doing relative to
organizational objectives.

It is much easier for employees to trust a leader that shows an interest in them.


The basis of good leadership is honorable character and selfless service to the organization; compassion for
employees and both their professional and personal situations. His
Holiness the 14th Dali Lama says, “I call compassion
the global staple…for all people in every endeavor.” In employees’
eyes, what leadership does affects the organization’s objectives and
their well-being. When a person is deciding if they respect a leader,
they don’t think about attributes, rather they see what leaders do.
Observations can often tell an employee if a leader is an honorable and
trusted person or a self-serving person, one who misuses authority to
look good and get promoted. Self-serving leaders are not as effective
because their employees only obey them, not follow them. When leaders
show compassion and understanding for employees and their situations, it
becomes easier for them to notice that their leaders are interested and
concerned, and not as self-serving as possibly thought.

Self Awareness

Successful leaders have a heightened level of self-awareness, they have an understanding of themselves, their
behaviors and actions, and how those behaviors and actions are
interpreted by, and directly impact, employees. A good example of
leadership self-awareness is exhibited in the U.S.
Army’s leadership philosophy
of “be, know, do.” Be proficient and
competent, know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, and do take
responsibility and lead by example. Always be open to further growth and
learning. Professional coaching
is also a great well to help further develop leader self-awareness.

A colleague shared a speech with me given last year by Marillyn
, President of Systems Integration-Owego, Lockheed Martin
Corporation on the subject of leadership in turbulent times. To
Marillyn, leadership is a set of personal behaviors that set the course
and create an environment that energizes people to meet a goal.

Marillyn says “…it’s easy to be a leader when everything is going great.
The challenge is how you act when things go wrong. In times of
great change… or tremendous challenge… that’s when the leadership
fundamentals matter most.”

Most competitive and sustainable organizations have great leaders at the top, and in the

Do you think you are one of those great leaders? Do you exhibit the best behaviors in the
ares of transparency, communication, trust, compassion, and
self-awareness? If not, what are your points of struggle? What are you
doing to better your daily behaviors to become a person with even
greater influence? I ‘d love to hear your story!

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