Four Things You Can Learn from This

Posted 03.30.2009

Last week, I was conducting some colleague feedback interviews for a senior executive client in the financial services industry.  We’re coming to the end of a seven month engagement which began in October 2008.   The client has been terrific to work with so the closing interviews with colleagues have been pretty relaxed.  Given all that’s happened in the financial services industry and in the world since last fall, I’ve been really interested to hear what the colleagues’ experience has been like since I first talked with each of them seven months ago.

One of the questions I’ve been asking is “Do you think this period is one that you’ll look back on years from now as one of the biggest learning and developmental experiences of your career?”  Everyone has said yes.  The responses and lessons learned thus far have been really striking.

The common denominator in the responses is that people really welcome the chance to step back, get up on the balcony and think for a few moments about what they’re getting out of this challenging experience.  Years ago, someone suggested to me that when you’re in the middle of a chaotic or stressful period,  taking some time to step back and ask yourself, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” can be a real perspective builder and an unexpected source of comfort.  That was more or less the vibe I got back from everyone I asked the question of.

So, what have some of these top performing leaders learned in the midst of the recession?  Here are four lessons that the leaders I talked to have learned so far:

Delegation: Top leaders are becoming more aware of the unique value in doing the things that only they can do given the roles that they’re in. To create the bandwidth to provide their unique value added activities, they are delegating more to their teams.

Decision Making Perspective: Ironically, the higher stakes of operating in the recession have caused many leaders to reframe their perspective on decision making.  They recognize now that there are big decisions and small decisions.  They are going a little easier on themselves in making the smaller decisions and realizing that making the wrong call is not necessarily the end of the world.

Demeanor: There’s an old joke that if you can keep your head about you while everyone else is losing theirs then you probably don’t understand the situation.  Funny, but necessarily true.  The leaders I’m talking to are placing a high value on their colleagues who can exhibit a non-judgmental ability to deal with very diverse and energized opinions without judgment or getting exercised, vocal and animated about it.   They’re learning that that sort of response has a calming effect on everyone up and down the leadership chain and enables people to work more effectively.

Decompression: It’s encouraging to hear that people are learning to take care of themselves in an extended period of challenging times.  One person I talked to is being extra intentional about leaving some down time for the unanticipated and to not be so booked up that she has no margin.  Another person in a very critical position is making sure she leaves herself time to train for a 10 mile road race that she enjoys running every year.

I’m sure there are more than four things that leaders can learn in this period that will serve them well later in their career, but I thought that was the start of a good list and that I’d share it with you.  What are you learning through leading in the recession that you’d add to the list?