How to be a good boss in bad times

When the going gets tough, the best leaders make like Harry at Agincourt, winning employees' hearts as well as their minds. But how do you inspire your happy band when the odds are stacked against you? Stefan Stern elucidates.

Books may furnish a room, but what are you supposed to think when you finally tidy up your desk after months of neglect and realise that the following titles were piled up on it: Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty, Leading in Times of Crisis, The Upside of the Downturn, Managing Through Turbulent Times, Surviving and Thriving in the Economic Crisis and Managing in a Downturn? And that was just pile number one.

Some people blame the media for first exaggerating and then perpetuating the mood of gloom and its ever-present twin, doom. The book-publishing industry clearly has a case to answer as well. But, in truth, journalists and authors have simply been reporting what is in front of their eyes. Times are bad. And there's a strong appetite for material that might help struggling managers cope with these unpleasant conditions.

What should good managers do at a time like this? First they have to rid themselves of any lingering traces of denial and accept how difficult the situation is. 'Confront the brutal facts,' as Jim Collins puts it in his book Good to Great. The corporate doctor and turnaround expert Anthony Holmes predicted hard times to come two years ago in a paper called 'The Gathering Storm', which, inevitably, did not receive the attention it deserved at the time (well, it was one hell of a party, wasn't it? Who wanted to listen to sober wisdom at a time like that?).

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