The days of leaders who can raise productivity and consequently profitability just by ‘managing by walking about’, patting their staff on the back and asking after the dog, are gone.
In fact some would argue that relationship-based leadership was a fad or flash in the pan and now that businesses are in a battle to survive, ruthless tacticians are what’s needed to lead the team. Luke Johnson said in today’s Financial Times : “It is becoming apparent that many leaders were really just suited to the good times. During a severe recession, when growth is irrelevant and all that matters is survival, their bullish attitude and denial of reality becomes positively dangerous .”
Let ‘s not be fooled into letting the pendulum swing too far however. These are very tough times and it is the leader’s job to navigate a way through the hazards ahead. But that doesn’t mean we should revert to training and hiring Genghis Khan work-alikes. We simply need to allow the existing leaders to make the hard choices and, crucially, to take the decisions that enable progress. This will doubtless include redundancies and uncomfortable changes in working practices but it will result in survival, and with survival comes growth.
So what of the friendly leader whose door is always open? They will be fine so long as they’ve made the decisions, taken action and charted the course ahead. If this hasn’t already happened nearly a year and a half after the downturn began* its probably too late for them and their business.
*The Northern Rock collapse began in September 2007