Leadership in unlikely places

Well, the recession has settled in for the long haul, and if your company is like most, you're definitely feeling it. Revenues are down. Customer demands are up. Employees seem frozen in place with anxiety. And their fearless leader (that would be you) is not living up to the title. More than you care to admit, you find yourself wishing that some business superhero would sweep in and rescue you from the recession. But rather than seeking outside help, you might try looking a bit closer to home, say Pam Bilbrey and Brian Jones. Greatness doesn't always come with a (symbolic) flowing cape and superpowers—sometimes, it's dressed in a polo shirt and well-worn khakis and working quietly in a cubicle.

"Everything you need to be successful already exists in your workforce," notes Bilbrey, coauthor along with Jones of Ordinary Greatness: It's Where You Least Expect It...Everywhere. "You're just not using it. Organizations like to say, 'People are our most valuable asset,' but they simply do not capitalize on their human resource asset. Very few leaders fully leverage the knowledge, ideas, and talents of their people to drive business results. If they started doing so, they could rescue themselves from the recession."

Your employees are a storehouse of passion, energy, skills, and commitment just waiting to be tapped, say the authors. By recognizing and reinforcing their "ordinary greatness," you help them bring their unrealized potential to the surface. Not only will this benefit your company right away, it will generate more of the same.

"Organizations that are able to access and harness the ordinary greatness of their people align themselves for greatness—even in challenging economic times," adds Jones.

Here are a few strategies that will help yours achieve its own brand of ordinary greatness:

Make sure employees are absolutely clear on where your organization is headed. Remember the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland? His words of wisdom seem prophetic: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." In times when we are re-evaluating and redefining everything we know as "normal," the importance of a clear vision and a clear direction for the future is ever more important. If leaders are fuzzy on the details (which is a common problem), it's time to buckle down and get focused. Then, make certain to communicate your plan to the entire company.

"Don't force your employees to guess where the organization is headed and what they should be focused on right now," says Bilbrey. "They will guess wrong. The fear, anxiety, and frustrations the workforce are experiencing will not disappear entirely, but a sense of comfort and trust will develop when leadership provides clarity around the strategies and actions needed to move past existing challenges and take advantage of opportunities. It's the road map that will point to where you are going."

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