The Tough Get Going When the Going Gets Tough: Leadership in the Face of Adversity

Leadership in the Face of Adversity

The best leaders are those who can face adversity and turnaround their companies from times of trouble to positions of strength. Throughout history, the leaders who were feted and achieved fame are those who took charge during times of crisis and managed to actualize victory. Similarly, in recent decades, the business world has seen a surfeit of leaders who stepped in when their companies were going through a rough patch and with their leadership ensured that they could revive and rejuvenate their companies. For instance, the legendary Lee Iacocca who was at the helm in Ford Motors took over the leadership of another auto major, Chrysler when the company was going through troubled times and in a matter of a few years ensured that it turned the corner. The case of the late Steve Jobs is another example of how he was recalled to Apple when the company was facing adversity and shrinking market share and with his game changing approach to business ensured that Apple is the most profitable company in the world. In recent weeks, the respected founder of Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, has been recalled from retirement and tasked with the job of restoring the company to its previous dominant position.

The Elements of Leadership in Adversity

What these examples tell us is that true leadership is a phenomenon that thrives on challenges and the authentic leaders are those who can turn adversity into opportunity. These leaders follow the maxim that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. More often than not, they lead by example and from the front, which means that they set a benchmark for the employees to follow which often motivates the employees to perform better and actualize their potential. In many cases, leadership in times of adversity works by rejuvenating the company through stirring words and actions and the latter are more important as the nuts and bolts of leadership lies in execution. The example of how Ratan Tata turned the TATA group around is a case in point as to how leaders need to work more and talk less and ensure that execution is as important as or more important than planning and conceptualization. When one considers businesses that are moribund or near to failure, we find that bringing in leaders who can inspire and actualize success helps a lot in reviving the fortunes of these companies. For instance, the example of how the public sector enterprises in India have been made profitable and that too worthy of high market capitalization from a situation where they were close to being shut tells us that collective leadership in the face of adversity is as important as charismatic and visionary leadership.

The Characteristics of Leadership in Adversity

The key point to be noted here is that anyone can ride the success of companies but it takes a real leader with vision, mission, and hard work to turn around companies that are struggling. One of the important aspects of such leadership is that they must have a team of peers and managers who are as committed to the revival of the company as the leader. This is critical and necessary for leaders tor turnaround the companies. Another aspect about such leadership is that they must be given time to succeed as transformations do not happen overnight unless one expects miracles, which is something most business leaders discount. Therefore, time, patience, effort, and cooperation are all factors that play a crucial role in determining whether the leader succeeds in his or her mission. The case of the former Defense Secretaries, Robert McNamara in the 1960s, and Robert Gates in recent years illustrates that for deep changes to actualize; the leaders need time, patience, and energy as well as a single-minded devotion to their tasks.


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Leadership