Sometimes managers feel like the last of a dying breed. Downsizing, cutbacks and corporate shutdowns have, indeed, cut management staffs to the bone. If you're one of the few left standing, you know it's a lonely feeling. And, let's be honest, it's also a scary one. You don't know how to best ensure your own survival, so chances are you're lying low, taking care not to make waves, and hoping the ax-wielders simply won't notice you. But this is not the time to toe the status quo line.
As the metaphorical "last man standing," you have an opportunity - no, an obligation - to take a strong leadership stance.
So what are the characteristics of strong leadership? I believe that to see the answer in action, we need only to look to America's military academies. Indeed, the principals taught and practiced at West Point and the Naval Academy can be used to conduct in-house training programs and workshops to develop leaders who achieve powerful business goals. Words like perseverance, accountability, communication, self-discipline and character are often heard in such sessions.
If you are to remain a viable, valuable leader for your company even in the worst of economic times, I suggest you embrace the following guidelines:
Develop a personal leadership philosophy
A personal leadership philosophy is the "compass" that helps you set a course for leadership success. Basically, it's a written document that includes your personal values, how you will carry out your responsibilities, what your priorities are, and what you expect of your people. Take your time and really think about what your beliefs and standards are - this document is the foundation for everything you do and say from here on out.
Familiarize yourself with goals, values of your organization. Figure out how they fit into your philosophy
Read your company's mission statement and really ponder it. Is it just a string of empty words or do employees live up to it? How can you ensure that your personal leadership philosophy meshes with your company's mission? There should be a certain synchronicity between the two.
Articulate your personal philosophy and your company's goals/values to your team
Once you've written your personal leadership philosophy, share it with upper-level management and subordinates. Make sure they fully understand every word. Your team needs to be crystal clear on what you stand for and what you expect from them. This is the only way you will ever be able to hold them accountable.
Model your personal leadership philosophy. Live it with passion
Your employees expect you to lead by example. Saying one thing and doing another will not inspire anyone. And don't forget the most critical part of the equation - passion. It is the key to successful leadership. No one ever inspired a team by being half-hearted or wishy-washy.
Don't be afraid to make the tough decisions
Here's a key parallel between military life and business life. In the heat of combat, leaders must make split-second decisions that are literally matters of life and death. Likewise, the decisions you make at work really can affect the vitality - and in some cases, the very existence - of your organization. That's why you must make your decisions with confidence and resolve.
Hold people accountable
When you are leading men into battle, their lives are in your hands, and yours in theirs. Everyone depends on each other to not let them down. Now, translate this principle to the "battlefield" that is the business world. When you're the leader, you owe it to your team to give 100 percent to everything you do. So does your team. Everyone's livelihood depends on this level of accountability.
Build your bench
Too many businesses view leadership as some mysterious trait you're born with. But in service academies it's expected that many people have leadership potential, and these organizations work to bring out that potential. This is how you should approach leadership training. As a leader, you are only as good as your ability to develop others.
Don't be a lone wolf
A strong leader is not a one-man (or woman) operation. If you can't delegate, you can't lead. But if you're like many leaders, you may favor those people who you feel most comfortable with-the ones most like you. That's a mistake. Sometimes people who are very different from you have exactly what your team needs to get a certain job done. Focus on your ability to connect with everyone.
Don't get stuck in survival mode
In anxious times, we tend to operate with tunnel vision, working fast and furious to meet our customer's needs. That's normal. But when things are a bit more relaxed - perhaps during a seasonal lull in business - it's time to step back and reflect on the big picture. Don't be afraid to adjust your personal leadership philosophy or your company's goals if there's a good reason to do so.
Never, ever, ever stop growing
Life is change. So is business. You must grow as a leader, every day. And your organization must grow as well. Don't use an unsteady economy as an excuse to be static; don't be afraid to take well-thought-out risks. Actually, standing still is a risk, because that's when you get run over by the competition.
When things aren't going so well, it means you have a chance to really make a difference as a leader. Think about it. When a company has lots of business and profits are high, there is absolutely no incentive to try something new. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Well, when it is "broke," there is a desperate need for someone to "fix it." Why shouldn't that someone be you?
Dennis F. Haley is the co-author of "The Leader's Compass: Set Your Course for Leadership Success," which is available at www.academyleadership.com. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a Vietnam veteran and CEO of Academy Leadership.