Innovative Leadership in Difficult Times

By Tomilee Tilley Gill, President

[ Click for a PDF of this article ]

Despite the gloomy economic state of the nation, certain market sectors have remained stable, showing some growth in 2009. According to a survey by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) the Healthcare and Government sectors are going to continue to recruit executives.

Demand for recruiting in Non-Profit, Education, Media/Entertainment and IT have remained relatively stable, but markets such as Financial Services, Real Estate and Retail will continue to experience a downward trend in hiring and have already seen the departure of thousands of executives.  We are experiencing new opportunities in Life Sciences, Healthcare and in the emerging fields of Green/Clean Energy and Technology. These sectors are believed to be the long-term growth markets, which many recruiters will be entering in 2009 and 2010.

Regardless of the current economic situation, astute companies are still recruiting talented leaders to stay ahead of their competition. Those companies which are seeking to innovate with new products will have to innovate with key people as well. These forward-thinking companies are seeking stress-tested leaders who can use existing resources, create value, and be positive communicators.

With limited liquidity, companies and their executives are struggling to survive. The current marketplace evokes uncertainty, which goes hand-in-hand with risk aversion, and therein lays the dilemma: This seemingly minor relationship between uncertainty and fear of risk leads executives, recruiters and organizations to stick with the familiar, rather than make confident decisions in contrast to the familiar. Making the right decisions to instill confidence within an organization requires having experienced leadership in place who understand the challenges and are able to maximize the opportunities and drive progress.

In this environment, companies cannot tolerate a pattern of poor decision making by any leader. When immediate and experienced problem solving is needed, many of our clients prefer utilizing an interim executive who is not a part of their payroll, headcount or SG&A and can be placed within an organization on short notice.

The main challenge for companies in 2009 is to balance between managing expenses and upholding organizational excellence. The Board and top management have to walk a fine line between cutting back and motivating their executive teams. Winston Churchill once said that “attitude is one little thing that makes a big difference”. Attitudes are contagious, and in 2009 exuding a positive attitude is one of the most important behaviors for executives to help navigate companies through the turbulence.

Companies clearly need to develop more of their own leaders by promoting from within, but simultaneously, they will also need to selectively recruit to introduce new ideas, fresh talent and an innovative perspective. Some companies will prefer to recruit interim executives, in an effort to evaluate an executive’s performance as it relates to their on-going investment, while other companies will hire executives on a traditional direct hire basis.

With either method, the goal is to bring in outstanding leadership that complements their existing team and further enables the company to achieve its targeted objectives. Despite the hurdles of a rough economy, EUI sees great opportunities on the horizon for such leadership.