April 4, 2013
Leadership And The New Normal

There’s no shortage of recent commentary on how “the new normal” is impacting business. Here’s the thing — most of it flat misses the mark. It doesn’t take a great deal of insightfulness to recognize businesses are navigating a new level of economic uncertainty, political acrimony and consumer cautiousness. That said, the new normal isn’t to be feared; it should be embraced.

The best leaders aren’t seeking a safe harbor in the ordinary. They’re seeking to navigate past the status quo into the realm of the extraordinary. Smart leaders recognize economic slow-downs are not all doom-and-gloom. In fact, the smartest executives understand that swimming upstream against the conventional wisdom of the risk averse can actually create significant opportunities for growth. This is the lens smart leaders use to view the new normal.

Business leaders who blame the economy for poor business performance are simply redirecting blame for their bad leadership on a target of convenience. If an economic downturn ruins a business, then it wasn’t much of a business to begin with. Severe business downturns or failures are a result of poor leadership — not economic conditions. A bad economy doesn’t cause good leadership to become bad, it simply reveals poor leadership no longer able to hide behind frothy market conditions, which so conveniently masked their shortcomings.

There are hundreds of studies that show businesses who focus on growth during bad economic times do better than competitors who lose their focus and attempt to wait it out on the sidelines. Leadership is not a spectator sport — it doesn’t lend itself well to a passive, or worse yet, regressive posture. Don’t fall prey to trying to do more with less, develop the ability to secure the talent and resources that will create a strategic advantage. Using a lack of resources as an excuse is just an indicator you’re not very resourceful.

Great leaders not only embrace the new normal, they look to constantly recreate the next version of it. Succumbing to comfort zones and status quo thinking simply creates barriers to innovation and change. The new normal affords leaders the opportunity to reexamine everything, abandon outdated thinking and challenge dominant logic. By perpetually creating the next new normal your business can remain in a constant state of reinvention.

I’m asking you to consider breaking the existing leadership paradigms within your organization. Find a few sacred cows and lead them to slaughter. Examine what you measure and why you measure it. Look at how decisions are made and who is allowed to make them. Inject youth where none presently exists. Replace the office squatters (those who have mentally quit, but failed to physically leave). Stop rewarding static thinking by embracing dissenting opinion and diversity of thought.

Use your creativity and leadership ability to leverage the next version of the new normal to be disruptive, create competitive advantage where none previously existed, to acquire better talent, to become more engaged and collaborative, and to rebuff apathy and mediocrity at every level. What’s the next new normal look like for your organization?


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