I was reminded of Shakespeare's classic words as I listened to an extraordinarily strong panel at yesterday's Ernst & Young's Strategic Growth Forum (note: we represent EY).
The panel was entitled, 'Navigating Through Challenge and Triumph: How top leaders do it.' The panelists were: Lynn Eisenhans, chairman, CEO and president of Sunoco, Margery Kraus, president and CEO of APCO (and incoming chair of the Council of PR Firms) and Shelly Lazarus, chairman, worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather.
The trio addressed a potpourri of topics, but the one that struck home was the discussion surrounding 'leader as actor.' Kraus and Lazarus, in particular, spoke about the need for leaders to consistently project positive verbal and non-verbal messages to their employees.
Kraus spoke about APCO's open-door policy and its importance to the firm's culture. One day, though, Kraus decided to keep her door closed for some time. When she finally opened it, there was a gaggle of employees milling about. The closed door had scared them and they were worried that something profoundly negative had just occurred. Instead, Kraus assured employees that the door had been closed only because she'd kept her windows open and was concerned her assistant would get chilly. Case closed. But, a classic example of the roles and responsibilities of leaders in times of crisis.
Far too many leaders hide behind closed doors. Far too many leaders wear their emotions on their sleeve. Far too many leaders over react to short-term setbacks instead of staying focused on long-term strategy.
Eisenhans, Kraus and Lazarus are classic examples of maintaining grace under pressure. In fact, their anecdotes and advice reminded me of another classic quote. This one is from Kipling: 'If you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs…then, my son, you'll be a man.'
Natural leaders instinctively know that a smile or an open door will send a critical signal anxious that employees desperately need to see.
We still have a long way to go before the economy bounces back. But, the better the CEO 'acts' and the more she or he keeps her/his head about them, the more reassured and productive the employees. And, the more productive the employees, the speedier the recovery.