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Where Should Leaders Focus in Tumultuous Times?

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We've had to learn some hard lessons during tumultuous times in the past. We look back on some hard lessons learned during the recession of the late 2000s to see if we can find words of wisdom.

A daily blog that I read prompted some serious thought. The writer, Arlin Sorenson, said that the business owners he knows are "struggling to know how to focus during these seemingly chaotic times. So what should a CEO or owner focus on which is ultimately what the company needs to be concerned with?" He went on to list 10 different things on which leaders need to focus right now. That caused me to think back to my 2009 book "The Eight Building Blocks for Creating a SUSTAINABLE Closely Held Company," in which I opined about the 10 things worthy of senior leader focus.

2009 was also a tumultuous time for contractors, wasn't it? It wasn't the great depression, but it was the biggest recession of my lifetime - and probably yours as well. We had to learn some hard lessons; most contractors saw their volume drop dizzyingly by 40 to 50%. All contractors had to do serious belt-tightening, and we wondered if our companies would survive. So what are the 10 things that I said see you should focus on in 2009? And do those areas still apply today? The leader must be the:

1. Keeper of the vision of the company

2. Clarifier and protector of the values of the company

3. Grandmaster of corporate strategy

4. Communicator of the vision, values, and strategy

The first four fit very neatly together. You've got a establish a vision, you've got to have values that help your people align their behaviors, you've got to have a strategy along with the plan for executing the strategy, and you must communicate all of the above. In fact, you've got to communicate and evangelize until you're blue in the face so everybody in the organization is on the same sheet of music.

5. Bird-dogger and evaluator of talent

6. Charismatic and authoritative spokesperson for the company

7. Personification of corporate teamwork

8. Advocate for customers and customer service

9. Custodian of the corporate cash

10. Mediator of high-level disputes and dissatisfactions in the organization

Looking at that list from 2009, what needs changing given the realities of 2022? One thing jumped out immediately: there's no mention of leadership development. That was a big whiff. You might say that leadership development falls under the “bird-dogger and evaluator of talent” role, but leadership development is about as high a priority for executives today as anything else on my list. Other than that, the menu seems remarkably fresh and relevant, doesn’t it?

Here's the way Arlin closed out his blog (I don't think I could write it any better than he did): “When the world seems out of control, that's not the time to go dark or quiet with your team. They are looking for your direction and sense of stability. Even if there isn't a lot to provide that foundation, strong business practices work no matter the circumstances. Doing the right thing is always the right thing. There are a number of truths that we just need to keep front and center and push the rest of the chaos to the side." Well stated, and great advice whether it is 2009 or 2022.

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