Leadership is never easy, but it is incredibly tough right now: The global financial system is basically paralyzed, the recession is the worst we’ve seen in the better part of a century, and trust in institutions and the people who lead them is at an all-time low.
Who better to put the subject of crisis leadership in perspective than Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian? Goodwin has written extensively about Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt,the two presidents who led the United States during its biggest crises:the Civil War and the Great Depression. She combines a shrewd understanding of how these leaders shaped their times and a profoundly empathetic sense of their emotional makeup. Her Different Voice conversation with senior editor Diane Coutu is about political leadership, obviously, but the lessons Goodwin synthesizes work as well for business leaders as they do for politicians.
Her advice? Hire the best possible people to work for you, even if they fought you for your job. Surround yourself with a team of people who can challenge your thinking and whose strengths make up for your deficits. Share credit with your closest colleagues, so that they’re fully committed to your mission. Be sure to communicate, often and authentically, with your larger public. And don’t forget to relax. (FDRhosted a cocktail hour every evening, during which it was forbidden to discuss either politics or the war.)
If you’re leading an organization through this downturn, you’re undoubtedly introducing major changes—and inevitably encountering resistance to them. According to Jeffrey Ford and Laurie Ford in “Decoding Resistance to Change,” it’s wise to engage with theresisters, learn from them, and alter your course if they suggest smart adjustments to your initiatives. Your biggest critics can be turned intoyour best advocates if you have the courage to listen carefully. This advice feels all the more important right now, given that an organization’s very survival may depend on making the right changes.
Two articles in this issue focus on how to hold on to—and betterserve—customers during the recession. “Howto Market in a Downturn,” by John Quelch and Katherine Jocz,advises managers to resegment their customers on the basis of theirrecession psychology: Some consumers slam the brakes on their spending,but others don’t change their behavior much at all unless they losetheir jobs. It’s essential to know which are which—and that’s not alwayseasy to predict. In “Five Rules for Retailing in a Recession,” KenFavaro, Tim Romberger, and David Meer note that retailers have been hitespecially hard by this downturn. They suggest, counterintuitively, thatretailers have the most to gain from catering to less-loyal customersrather than to new or loyal customers.
“What’s Your Google Strategy?,” by Andrei Hagiu and David Yoffie, will help strategists think through how to work with powerful intermediaries like Google, Amazon, and Blu-ray. They can help your business grow—and they can also cause its demise. Tread carefully. In“When Internal Collaboration Is Bad for YourCompany,” Morten Hansen notes that corporate leaders are so taken with the idea of “breaking down silos” that they rarely do a cost/benefit analysis of boundary-spanning collaboration. Turns out thatplenty of collaborations should never get the go-ahead. Rounding out the issue, “Predicting Your Competitor’s Reaction” outlines a surprisingly simple method that Kevin Coyne and John Horn developed for anticipating how other companies will react to your next strategic move.