It’s time to lead your team out of the recession

There’s a subtle yet powerful scene in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie, Lincoln, which I can’t seem get out of my head.

It takes place just after the South’s surrender to the North effectively ending the Civil War. Lincoln rides out to the frontline outside of Petersburg, Va., to survey the destruction and meet with Union General Ulysses S. Grant at his headquarters. As the two men sit on the porch, Lincoln appears noticeably tired and burdened by the devastation and terrible loss of life. For four years, the Civil War defined his presidency, yet now Lincoln is faced with a new set of challenges — those of a nation in need of healing. After a somber conversation, as the two men shake hands to part ways, Grant looks intently at Lincoln and says, “We have won the war. Now you have to lead us out of it.”

While I would never equate my experiences as the president of a company during and after a recession to the experiences of the president of the United States during and after a war, there are some parallels to be drawn. For many of us in business, the recent recession defined us as leaders. We had to adjust to meet seemingly insurmountable challenges. For years we had to lead our organizations through the most difficult economic crisis since the Great Depression — yet now we are faced with a new set of challenges: leading our organizations out of the recession. Whether you’re talking about a nation, a company, or a non-profit organization, effective leaders understand the difference.

Effective leaders define reality: Noted author on leadership, Max DePree, wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

Your organization’s reality during the recession may have been quite different than it is now. When effective leaders define reality, they communicate expectations which serve as a platform from which individuals within the team can jump to new heights. Production expectations such as a minimum rate of return for investors or target margins, for example, are heavily influenced by performance expectations. Performance, in turn, is heavily influenced by many factors such as work environment, organizational flow and available resources — all of which effective leaders must manage on a daily basis.

Effective leaders are task-oriented: A few weeks ago I visited with a group mid-level managers at a non-profit organization and was struck by how focused the effective managers were on their respective department’s tasks moving forward in the post-recession era. I wanted to learn about what motivated them, but before I could ask the first question, these leaders were excitingly explaining specific projects their teams were working on and their post-recession goals. As a result, these departments thrived and actively contributed to the organization’s overall performance. The less effective leaders, on the other hand, lacked the same drive and sense of purpose which reflected in their department’s lackluster performance.

Effective leaders communicate vision: While effective leaders keep their teams focused on performance, results and continual improvement, they have the uncanny ability to keep their organizations’ core ideology, it’s reason for being, present throughout the day to day activities. Without bogging their teams down with the philosophical meaning behind their companies’ purposes, effective managers know how to keep the vision alive within their organizations and make it relatable to each individual on the team. While the company’s vision should never change, regardless of the economy, effective leaders may change the way they relate to their team during and after the recession. Effective leaders understand that behind execution there is inspiration.

Effective leaders let their actions speak louder than their words : I began my list of qualities of an effective leader with part of a quote by Max DePree. Here is that quote in its entirety: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant and a debtor.” Remember that surviving the recession was a team effort. Don’t pass up any opportunities to appreciate your team for their effort. While Lincoln was certainly one of the most eloquent presidents in our nation’s history, his actions spoke louder than his words. If you want to be an effective leader I encourage you to let your actions speak louder than your words — and by many decibels.

Manny García-Tuñón is president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm in Miami, Florida.

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