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Janet W. Hagen, Ph.D.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

We are in some of the hardest economic times that many of us have faced in our lifetime.  And, by all indications, the way out is going to be equally hard.  For some of us that means that we have to face our own economic security, or lack thereof, as well as know that the uneven access to resources that permeates our society will be exacerbated by the road ahead.  In short, we have to worry about our own jobs and the sustainability of our agencies in addition to serving more people in need of help.  What is a leader to do?  Continue to, as described in the October 22,  2006 edition of US News and World Report, lead in ways that “bring people together to achieve sustainable results over time.”


Must, or should, leadership change during hard times?  Yes, and no.  Those same characteristics that make a good leader during good times are the same that make a good leader during hard times.  The difference is that many passable leaders are able to achieve results during the good times.  Only great leaders are able to successfully navigate the rough waters of hard times.  Great leaders practice what I call “intentional leadership.”


Lets not be shy about the fact that “intentional leadership, authentic leadership, integral leadership,” in short any of those moral character concept words, once googled will have any number of gurus and websites associated with them.  To be clear, then, in this case, “intentional leadership” refers to a focus these particular functions:  emotional awareness and authenticity, principled choices and integrity, and follow-through.


Emotional awareness and authenticity:

  Some research has indicated that up to 30% of the accomplishments of an organization can be attributed to a positive emotional environment. How can you have a positive emotional environment when people are afraid for their jobs, the organization and the people they serve?  Through emotional awareness and authenticity.  Awareness requires that you open the dialog to what people are feeling.  Authenticity requires that you stay true to your values.  This is a time of fear.  You know it.  Everyone in your organization knows it.  Address it.  Your organization can survive.  Maybe right now you don’t know how but you have the passion, empathy, and ability to make the tough calls – not empty platitudes – a sincere belief in your colleagues, (and it goes without saying, although I am saying it anyway, that your colleagues include everyone in your organization consumers included) your purpose and your combined abilities.  If you don’t believe – get out!  Daniel Goleman’s 2002 book Primal Leadership:  Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence can help keep you on track.



Principled choices and integrity:

  Tell it like it is.  The truth and no holding back.  This is integrity. The facts, no matter how hard, are less problematic than fearful imaginings.  Some leadership experts add “and where you want to go” but I disagree. Where you want to go must be determined with input from many sources.  People need to feel empowered and to be able to take charge and be rewarded, not sanctioned.  Today’s organization should not be the old military-manufacturing model of boss-employee, professional-consumer.  However, that model is still functioning to a greater or less degree in most non-profit organizations.  You must abandon this model. You must make principled choices.  Principled choices are made for the greater good, for now and the future, with all voices heard. Hearing all voices doesn’t mean just individuals.  What can your learn from these lean concepts from manufacturing? “Trying to save all jobs could end up with a company that has no jobs but treat people fairly and honestly and have a future oriented justification.” “Reevaluate the value of sacred facilities, bulky internal functions and out-of-date relationships –  remove excess inventories, space, machine, people.”


Some leaders inspire their colleagues to make the sacrifices to do more with less.  Intentional leaders inspire their colleagues to engage in a creative and rigorous reassessment of the work that must be done (or not done), how it must (or can) be done (or not done), how people can be assigned  (or reassigned) to meet the true purpose of the organization.  Intentional leaders continue to invest in the development of all their colleagues as well as the organization.  To learn more try Authentic Leadership:  Rediscovering Secrets to Creating Lasting Value (2003) written by Bill George.


Follow through:

How many of us have gone through strategic planning time and again with each new management cycle only to hear the same old issues brought up over and again and the same report carefully placed on a bookshelf, or these days our website, never to be heard from again? In these times we do not have the resources of time, energy and emotional investment to waste on rote processes that do not yield results.  Small bites of of high energy time with immediate payoffs often will serve better as the longer term plan emerges.  Dump that lengthy and basically useless form – today.  Eliminate the marginal data collection, procedures that we have “always” followed. Ask for the top 5 time wasters and either get rid of them or revamp them – now.  Use your reassigned staff (see above) to gather information and resources for the organization to make others’ jobs flow better.  Don’t forget to take a look at what service you are providing.  Can you collaborate?  Can another organization do it better?  What do your consumers say? Do what you do best better. A resource that can be a bit of a struggle to read, but is nonetheless the best is Jim Collins’ 2002 book From Good to Great.  You could also try his 2005 book Good to Great in the Social Sectors.

Not every organization flounders during hard times.  Some organizations find that hard times creates a new demand for their services.  Companies that help others save money or resources flourish when money is tight.  How might your organization provide services that help others conserve resources? Is it possible that this could be a growth time for your organization?  Intentional leadership – emotional awareness and authenticity, principled choices and integrity, along with follow through – will help you focus on what you need to survive and thrive.