Editorial?Leadership in Times of Crisis
By Alicia Orr Suman
There is no denying it is difficult to maintain a "business as usual" attitude right now. The nation as a whole doesn't know what to expect next, and managers at direct marketing companies are no exception. One day the market is showing signs of life; the next it's in the dumps again.
No one could have imagined, no less predicted, the horrible acts of terrorism of Sept. 11 and the anthrax scares that followed. At The Direct Marketing Association Conference in October, I spoke to executives at direct marketing and catalog companies, as well as the agencies and vendors they work with; all talked of the difficulty of managing in these current, uncertain times. What they said: The traditional way of doing business—forecasting increases in revenues for next year and assigning those goals to various managers with the organization—no longer works because the metrics that define those financial goals can change at any moment.
When we really don't know what could happen next, or how long the war on terrorism might last, it's impossible for companies to operate with any sense of normalcy.
Why Managing No Longer Works
So how do companies manage? They can't. Management doesn't work now. The way for companies to survive these difficult times and in the long run return to being thriving, viable businesses is through strong leadership.
You might ask, what is the difference between management and leadership? To some these may seem virtually the same. But they are in fact very different. Being a boss is not the same as being a leader. An article in the Nov. 12 issue of Fortune said: Bosses inherit subordinates. Leaders earn followers. People want to be led. Indeed, as the recent outpourings of support for political figures have reminded us, people are starved for it.
Consider our president, George W. Bush. While some may have disagreed with his policies and how he was managing the nation, he has proved to be a strong leader. Another example: New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The city was so comforted by his leadership that many New Yorkers suggested bending the rules to allow him to run for a third term.
CEOs and other managers at direct marketing companies can learn from how these and other leaders have responded to crisis. 1) Think long term and translate that thinking to your employees. 2) Don't hide the facts about the down market. 3) Share what you're doing to keep the company going through the tough times. All seemingly simple things, but these actions can go a long way toward earning employee loyalty. Remember, people are your most valuable asset.