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Steve Isenberg

Excellence in Leadership: The Sink or Swim Factor

Posted on: October 23, 2020

By: Steve Isenberg


“Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction and have people feel good about it.”  – Tom Smith, Bestselling Author, Co-Founder, Partners in Leadership

 Strong, capable leadership has always been, and will always be, a tremendous asset to any business. But considering the myriad of circumstances challenging the world, thanks to COVID-19, the strength of a company’s leadership team could well be the factor determining whether an organization sinks or swims. As we collectively navigate these uncharted waters, it will test even the most robust organizational structures. While many staffing companies will find themselves in a treading-water mode for a period, that phase cannot continue indefinitely.

Today’s complex business world calls for men and women capable of leading organizations toward success, through the rough waters of 2020 and beyond. The caliber of leadership governing operations during this challenging time may tip the boat either toward a forward-progress swim or a taking-on-water sink.

Because our foe is a virus, too tiny to be seen with the human eye, this scenario feels different than past crises. And that creates a heightened sense of uncertainty. Yes, the pandemic presents a new type of challenge, but the lessons learned from past obstacles can provide your staffing firm’s management team with a sure and certain footing.

When facing the 9-11 crisis and later the 2008 global financial crisis, Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman, and chief executive officer of American Express, sought to make connections by reaching out to people in the company, as well as clients, customers, and shareholders. His goal? To build confidence and allay fears.

“You have to understand the feelings people have in a crisis,” says Chenault. “The uncertainty they feel, the anxiety they have when the markets collapse. You must acknowledge that what is happening is a cause for anxiety. But you also have to explain that there are good reasons why they should also feel confident.”

Chenault paraphrases Napoleon when he defines the essence of leadership. “The role of a leader is to define reality and give hope.” 

What does effective COVID-19-times leadership look like?

  • Be authentic

Honesty is crucial. It is as essential to effective leadership as the healthcare workers caring for the sick throughout this pandemic. Vulnerability and transparency come in close behind, at a tie for second. It’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers yet, if the seeking process continues in earnest.

  • Communicate to the nth degree

Secrecy breeds mistrust, incites rumors, and divides rather than unites. Your staff will feel more confident when timely communication flows freely and consistently. Again, as noted above, it is unnecessary to have every I dotted, and t crossed before sharing with your team. If remote-work scenarios have members of your team offsite, double your efforts to keep those folks in the loop.

  • Be accountable

While no one plans to fail or make a mistake, it happens. What sets great leaders apart from their mediocre counterparts is taking responsibility when something goes awry. Owning failures rather than pointing the blame elsewhere is truly the mark of excellence in leadership.

  • Evaluate the entire leadership team

Successfully moving forward will require a no-holds-barred assessment of the current leadership team by posing such pivotal questions as—

  • Do we have the right people in the right places?

While the “warm body” approach is never advisable, it does happen. Harry is willing to assume the role. He has some of the needed qualities, and his team will pull their weight, so it should all work out. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario.

While a company may slide along with a ho-hum leader during prosperous, smooth-sailing times, a lackluster leader will not cut it during a challenging period. Harry’s team will be looking to him for specific guidance and clear-cut direction.  And if Harry cannot deliver in a pinch, the ripple effect will be felt across the company. Strive for an “aces in their places” approach in every season.

  • Have shifting market conditions created the need for additional leadership roles?

In barely more than a blink of an eye, the way we do life and business changed, causing the routines of everyday living to become barely recognizable for a sizable portion of the population. These disruptions have undoubtedly impacted your staffing agency, possibly lessening the need for services in one area while multiplying it in another. Resist the urge merely to get by—an approach that never produces excellence.

  • Do we have open leadership positions?

Many companies have experienced a shuffling of their workforce, whether for reasons predominately or minorly related to the pandemic. Folks close to retirement moved up their departure. Those fearful of contracting the virus or who lived with high-risk loved ones, felt the need to take a leave of absence. A position being “covered” rather than filled permanently may now desperately need a dedicated staff member. Address each situation as if it holds critical importance because it does.

The best defense against the make-or-break times facing staffing companies across the country is a leadership team capable of and committed to strong, decisive excellence. A team trained to acquire the talent required to meet the changing needs of their clients—a team dedicated to weathering the storm and preparing for when the job market fully opens again.

At ASJ Partners, we’re committed to brainstorming the best marketing strategies to see your staffing firm through this tumultuous storm. We look forward to being your partner today, and in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Contact our staffing specialists via telephone or our website.


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