Leadership During the Recession: 10 Things You Can do to Lead

Are you a leader or are you just a boss? Now that the economy has people’s career’s hanging in the balance, that question is more important than ever. During difficult times, when you can’t simply throw money and perks at the problem of employee loyalty and engagement, what can you do? 

In a recent article on BusinessKnowHow.com, British leadership expert Gina Gardiner has assembled ten strategies that leaders can use to promote employee loyalty and engagement, but before we get to them, let’s have a look at the difference between a leader and a boss. 

The biggest difference between a boss and a leader is this: A boss drives his employees and is obeyed only because of his/her seniority. There may be respect, but it is usually for the office, not the officeholder. A leader is personally respected and looked up to as an example. Leaders coach and enable, rather than drive, and they don’t necessarily need to rely on their position for obedience. Instead, leaders rely more on the qualities of their character and the ability they bring to the job to inspire those they lead. The boss-employee relationship is a monologue, with the boss dictating and the employee listening and obeying. The leader-employee relationship is a dialogue, with the goal to realize what is best for the organization, project, mission, etc. 

If you are a boss, you are not likely to see your employees as much more than pawns to be moved and lost and replaced as needed. If you are a leader, you are interested in building and maintaining a cohesive team that can meet the needs of the organization and you understand that everyone on that team has an important role to play and deserves respect. If that is you, then Gardiner’s ideas on maintaining the loyalty and engagement of your workforce during these difficult times will have some meaning. 

The Staff Needs to Believe
If your organization’s values and those of your staff don’t agree, if they cannot see the point of the mission of vision, then you will have a stressed and disaffected workforce. Gardiner suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • How well does your staff understand what your organization is about?
  • How do you know?
  • How well known is your company's vision for the future and its mission in achieving it?
  • Were they involved in creating it?
  • How might you engage your team in developing and embedding your values throughout the company or department? 

Honesty and Integrity are Key
Trust is earned and it is vital that there is trust between the leader and those who are led. With it, the team can work together to face even the greatest challenges, without it the team is broken and the future bleak. Once trust has been destroyed it is almost impossible to reinstate it. Be honest you’re your people; state your case clearly and without brutality and your people will maintain their trust, even when the message itself is unpopular. 

Be Consistent and Keep Your Ego in Check
A sense of uncertainty can be very damaging and that is precisely what you get with an inconsistent set of expectations or messages or people. Your employees need to be confident that your decisions are being made for the right reasons and that they will be changed only if and when there is a valid reason. Also, moodiness and having favorites within a team is never acceptable—that goes for the CEO and everyone else—since there is no room for ego in the successful team or organization. 

Each Individual is Valuable and so is the Contribution They Make
When the choice is between more money and feeling that they are valued as individuals, feeling valued has always rated higher as a successful motivator. The catch is that it has to be real, you can’t fake it. It comes from knowing your team as people, understanding their personal needs and aspirations, offering opportunities for them to be noticed, coached and advanced. This should not a chance thing, but something that your management embraces and acts upon from the top down. 

Give Your Staff a Voice, and then Listen
High employee stress levels usually appear when people feel that they have no control over what is happening around them or to them. By creating the opportunity for your people to have their say, to be heard and to have a real opportunity to influence what is happening can significantly reduce stress and dissatisfaction. 

Keep Your Expectations Realistic and Keep Your Word
Creating unreasonable expectations which are inevitably dashed only serves to create great dissatisfaction and cynicism in everyone. Clear, high, explicit expectations and keeping your promises both make it far easier to have hard conversations. Also, when people feel they have been treated fairly they are much more likely to take responsibility, learn lessons and improve. If they feel otherwise, especially if they feel lied to or betrayed, then loyalty and engagement problems will be inevitable. 

Give Your Staff a Sense of Certainty
Certainty—safety—is one of mankind’s the most basic needs and it is something you must engender within your organization. Remember, it is not what you do but the way you do it that makes the difference. If you don’t keep your people informed, or you give them the feeling that they are being kept out of the loop, you are creating uncertainty and likely filling them with anxiety and resentment as well. Involve your people in discussions early on and keeping them informed as things progress. 

Involve Your Staff in Finding Solutions
Here we are talking about Power Teams, where each individual takes responsibility not only for their own contribution but also for helping each other to contribute fully. The benefits of every team within an organization becoming a successful power team far out weighs the cost of developing the training. What have you done to actively promote and train Power Teams within your organization?  

Motivate Your Staff by Knowing What Motivates Them
This goes back to valuing your employees enough to listen to them. If you pay attention, you will discover what motivates your employees. The clues to their internal drivers are in the language they use and the actions they take. Once you understand them you will find it is much easier to speak their language and to give them the opportunity to thrive, which gives your organization a greater potential for success. 

Listen to Your Mother and Say “Thank You”
Genuine gratitude goes a long way as a motivator. Recognizing the efforts people have made on behalf of your company makes a great difference to the way they feel about being there and about you, personally. Take time to notice who is working hard, who helps others and who contributes the energies to creating success and recognize their efforts. 

Understand that the cost of ignoring these principles during this recession will be a very unhappy workforce that may work harder now out of fear for their jobs but who, in the medium and long run, will be eager to find new work when they can. That is not what you want. You want people who want to be a part of your company, well motivated and enthusiastic employees who will create ongoing success. A boss can’t get that, but a leader can. Moreover, how you treat your people now, when times are tough, will live on long after the economy improves. What sort of reputation will your company have when there is competition for highly skilled and experienced people? Firms that are known to care and develop their people in hard times generally attract great talent when things are flush. 

So, leader or boss? It’s up to you.