Editorial: The right stuff in adversity

What is the secret of leading in troubled times?

by Matthew Gwyther, MT Editor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

That's the theme of this special edition, and we aim to provide inspiration and guidance for managing through these harsh conditions. The greatest Brit leader in a backs-to-the-wall situation is usually reckoned to have been Winston Churchill. For inspirational true grit he had no equal, and he carried people with him. But it would take a supremely confident manager to emulate the cigar-chomping swiller of Pol Roger at the weekly team meeting with a rendition of 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat'. The speech continues: 'We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.' It certainly stiffened resolve in spring 1940, but would it sound quite so inspiring in the business parks of Slough in the autumn of 2009?

There has certainly been a fair bit of suffering at the BBC recently. The corporation's enemies - growing more vociferous as the media downturn bites - are attacking on all fronts. Even the Government weighed in recently, with the culture secretary and ex-Beeb hack Ben Bradshaw accusing the director general, Mark Thompson, of poor leadership. Thompson may be no Greg Dyke, but he seems the right person for this tough gig.

Also under the cosh has been Mike Geoghegan of HSBC, who gives MT a rare interview. His bank may have suffered a 50% fall in profits, but compared to other basketcases in finance such as Northern Wreck or HBOS, it's sitting pretty. But bankers have a shocking image problem at the moment, perceived as reckless, greedy roulette-players who run crying to government when their luck turns. Standing accused as a main cause of this deep recession, they are coining it again, leaving the rest of us stuck in the mire. Nobody has called HSBC a 'blood-sucking vampire squid' - an accusation levelled at Goldman Sachs - but quite a few out there feel that it dwells with the bottom feeders.

People just don't trust banks at the moment. And trust is a key to getting anywhere in business - now more than ever. Our trust survey, conducted with the Institute of Leadership and Management, has revealed troubling undercurrents, not least that a third of non-managers have low trust - or no trust - in their management teams. There's also disturbing stuff about a lack of trust between men and women, too.

Hard times require solidarity. That means being seen out there as a leader, telling the truth. As Churchill added in that speech, 'I feel entitled at this juncture... to claim the aid of all and to say: "Come, then, let us go forward together with our united strength."'

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today