The right client leadership style for the times

Ancient Cherokee society had two governments, White and Red. The White government ruled in times of peace. Comprised of men and women over 50, they sought wisdom in decision-making. The Red government, younger and valuing bravery, took over during times of war. The Cherokee recognized in the structure of its society that different circumstances demanded different approaches and styles.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the technology and the corporation Google. They fought for a place among search engines, eventually surpassing all of them. They won over venture capitalists to fund their growth. They led the company through its chaotic early years. By 2001 “Google” had become a verb and the dominant search engine. The company’s investors felt they needed stronger internal management and hired Eric Schmidt as CEO. The company needed a peace chief.

10 years later the company faced increasing legal battles over monopoly and competitive challenges from companies like Facebook and Apple. They were going back to war. Larry Page moved back in as CEO.

Your company’s long-term survival depends on adapting leadership style to the circumstances. How will you tailor your approach as 2020 continues?

One insight from client advisory boards is the changes in how clients describe their desire for communication with the general level of uncertainty. During stable times, board members desire relatively infrequent updates. Interest in news about the economy and the markets is low. Expectations are dramatically different during market volatility and significant world events. That’s not news.

The kind of advice expected changes as well. “Stay the course” works much of the time but clients want to see a firm hand at the helm during stormy seas. Many may want to hear more frequent market updates although I suspect they are more interested in knowing you are keeping on top of things than to keep current on the movement of indexes.

Leading the company changes, too. Management becomes less systematic progress on a plan and more reactive. When to rebalance portfolios gains importance. Developments may require adjustments to financial plans. Marketing changes in content and timing.

Publicly held companies and the Cherokee nation addressed this challenge by empowering separate people who had different skills and styles. You can successfully adapt by empowering different members of your leadership team or simply recognizing the need for a change in style when things get hairy.

I am working with one firm led by a peace chief stuck in a style appropriate to periods of calm. It has worked very well over the past 10 years. But now the leader is overwhelmed, unable to forecast, frustrating the staff by indecision. If a second wave of the pandemic or another market drop develops, the organization may experience irreparable harm.

If the year so far suggests a survival strategy it may be adaptability. As we wait to see what develops, how will you decide which chief rules?

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