Managers face crucial new challenges in recession

September 10, 2009

martin-clarke– Dr Martin Clarke, Director of Leadership Development Programmes at Cranfield School of Management in the UK. The opinions expressed are his own. –

With an understandable focus on the short term demands of recession, the leaders’ role of generating debate about future priorities is never more crucial.  In difficult times the tendency to force decisions, to be seen to act, can often mean an organisation’s strategic assets can get thrown out with the bath water.

Leaders who can create space for informed discussion will not only ensure that tomorrow’s plans are well grounded but also provide the foundations for committed and engaged execution as the upturn begins to gain traction. Such strategic debate is predicated on two key leadership attributes.

First, it requires a well developed external perspective; a knowledge of what is going around your business, a facility that was apparently in short supply in Lehman Brothers. This extends beyond the occasional external contact and attendance at industry events. It demands disciplined attention on and engagement with diverse events, people and ideas that may well fall outside an executive’s comfort zone.

Secondly, it requires leaders who are capable of arguing through the morale dimension of business, not just in terms of “right sizing” but in considering the difficult challenges faced by the corporate survivors who are often asked to work more for less. This kind of debate is personally demanding, often requiring challenge when tolerance for the airing of differences can be seen as unproductive.

When will discussion about alternatives paralyse rather than enable debate? When is it OK to roll over and go along with the prevailing view (whilst quietly developing plan B)?

In the end, these questions raise a personal morale choice that sits at the heart of leadership, in recession or out of it: just how much of myself am I prepared to invest in the responsibilities of being a leader?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Nothing written above one could disagree with, however, given the incredibly destructive impact of a whole industry sector which brought our economy to the brink, management consulting advice seems generally quite anodyne.

If consultants existed during the second world war they would be advising the allies to “keep focused on maintaining their moral compasses and on an helicopter view” when negotiating with Germans – a hard thing to do when bullets and bombshells are landing round you and killing your mates.

Given that the most financial devastation occurred in the US and UK, The value of management consultants to US and UK businesses and economies urgently needs exactly the short of challenge and devil’s advocacy that Dr Clarke recommends above for any organisation.

Having myself completed an MBA at Cranfield (which does educate and train good leaders and managers) and then worked for 10 years as a management consultant, I came to the conclusion before this recession/depression that too much of consultancy services are not worth the fees paid because clients are simply not demanding enough.

This is the case especially when it comes to the public sector and taxpayers money where senior management’s capacity to waste money generally including on consultancy fees, is in my experience, endless.

Posted by mark | Report as abusive

“Leaders who can create…”
You’re kidding right?
Our lot? Creative? Apart from large incomes, the supporting tiers of worthless bureaucracy to create income comfort zones, and waffle-speak to hide it all behind, I fail to see what our contemporary Administrator Leaders have ever positively created.

Stultifying Bureau-Democracy is a default option in the absence of leadership. I suspect it’s a side effect of the political battles of the early C20 which saw off the last vestiges of aristocratic rule, and replaced it with the economically focussed, poorer educated and generally witless to the larger picture middle class.

Posted by Rhoops | Report as abusive

Well no, I am not kidding.
Your observation seems to reflect a sweeping generalisation. Twenty years experience of working with managers from all over the world tells me there are leaders out there who are capable of creating space for good quality debate about values and principles in business. Whilst we can all point to leadership failures, my experience also tells me leadership is harder than it looks from the outside.

Posted by Martin Clarke | Report as abusive