The world economy is truly winded at the moment. Already in a weakened state, it took a brutal blow in the midriff on September 11 that has left it reeling, and it looks headed for the canvas. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that it will make it to its feet before the end of the count. We've been here before in the downturns of the early '60s, mid-'70s and late '80s, which were followed by recovery. The lamps went out all over Europe in 1914 but they did eventually come on again, albeit in varying degrees of brightness. We believe in lights at the ends of tunnels.
These grim events and subsequent hard times make the role of those who lead businesses even more crucial. Being in the hot seat at the top of an organisation is never easy in the best of times, but when things cut up rough the CEO really needs to find something extra from the bottom drawer. Our cover feature looks at the traits required to be an effective CEO and is accompanied by a quiz for those who aspire to the heights. Check whether you've got what it takes - and think about whether you want it.
It is, in many senses, far harder to lead in adversity than when things are booming. Staff are fearful for their jobs and their welfare outside work. Many feel deep unease just setting foot on an airliner now. Clear and truthful communication becomes even more vital, as does the lifting of spirits and a sustained emphasis on seizing the few new opportunities available, the recession notwithstanding. When heads are down it is difficult to see the lights ahead.
One of the nastiest tasks of the CEO is the role he or she has to play in that most unpleasant of processes, 'letting people go'. David Butcher, the author of our 'Ready Aim Fire' article, describes the act of dismissing a staff member as 'the toughest 10 minutes most managers have to face'. If and when such 'de-layering' (let's hope whoever invented that expression was 'downsized' for their pains) becomes unavoidable, there are good and bad ways of carrying it out. And how well you do it will affect your company in the long term. The careless loss of intellectual and human capital began to dawn on many in business only after the ham-fisted way in which widespread redundancies were made in the early '90s. Which other assets would be treated in this way?
Maybe this downturn is a good time to listen to some of the recommendations coming from Denise Kingsmill in her review of women's employment and pay that is due to be delivered to ministers this autumn. Perhaps her recommendations will lead to more company annual reports showing how the board has looked after the people as well as the profits, the IT and the car fleet.