This is an edited excerpt from President Obama’s inauguration speech. In addition to delivering a powerful set of messages to US citizens and other people around the world, Obama’s words also contained extremely valuable lessons for executives trying to lead their organizations through the recession. Here’s my take on some insights in his speech:
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: they will be met.
My take: Leaders need to communicate the reality about the difficult economic environment, but still maintain a vision of hope for employees (as well as customers, suppliers, and investors).
It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor – who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
My take: The success of a company comes from the day to day activities of all employees. So it is critical to keep them engaged in the shifts being made to react to the recession. How? By making sure to actively communicate and look for their help in finding solutions. Remember the 4th law of customer experience: unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers.
Our workers are no less productive when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed.
My take: It’s important to acknowledge the core strengths of the company, but recognize that this is a time for making tough decisions. This may call for cutting off entire initiatives while raising investments in others. As management guru Ram Charan recommends: Just say no to across-the-board cuts.
The state of our economy calls for actions: Bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.
My take: It’s time to take decisive action that protects your company in the short-term and also prepares the company for its post-recession future. Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, captured this nicely in his advice to GE’s top executives on how to manage through the recession: “Keep your company safe but keep building the future.”
We will restore science to its rightful place and wiled technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.
My take: Don’t just do less of the same thing in this downturn, rethink how you operate. Look for opportunities to use technology to create more even value at lower costs. For a great example of this type of thinking, just look at Aravind Eye Care.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between safety and our ideals… Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake
My take: Don’t forget the common purpose that holds your company together. Even in a downturn, make sure that decisions are consistent with the ideals of your brand. As Gandhi once wisely said: “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”
The bottom line: Take this moment in time to rethink your leadership approach.