Careers: Are You the Last Man Standing?

If you're a manager in a downsized organization, don't just stand there waiting for the ax to fall. Transform yourself into a strong, take charge leader. CEO and author Dennis F. Haley tells you how.

King of Prussia, PA -- Sometimes managers feel like the last of a dying breed. Downsizing, cutbacks and corporate shutdowns have, indeed, cut management staffs to the bone. If you're one of the few left standing, you know it's a lonely feeling. And, let's be honest, it's also a scary one. You don't know how to best ensure your own survival, so chances are you're lying low, taking care not to make waves, and hoping the ax-wielders simply won't notice you. But according to Dennis F. Haley, CEO of Academy Leadership, this is not the time to toe the status quo line.

"As the metaphorical 'last man standing,' you have an opportunity-no, an obligation-to take a strong leadership stance," declares Haley, who along with co-author Ed Ruggero, covers this subject in his new book The Leader's Compass: Set Your Course For Leadership Success (Academy Leadership Publishing, 2003, ISBN: 0-9727323-0-6, $14.95).

"The ethical and financial scandals that have rocked the business community lately were caused, or at the very least enabled, by yes-men and yes-women who adapted, chameleon-like, to what was going on around them," he adds. "This fact is reason enough to adopt a policy of strong, inspirational, principle-based leadership. The other reason is that when people are being weeded out, those with the strongest roots are the hardest to get rid of."

So what are the characteristics of strong leadership? Haley believes that to see the answer in action, we need only to look to America's military academies. Indeed, Academy Leadership uses principles taught and practiced at West Point and the Naval Academy to conduct in-house training programs and workshops to develop leaders who achieve powerful business goals. Words like perseverance, accountability, communication, self-discipline and character are often heard in these sessions.

If you are to remain a viable, valuable leader for your company even in the worst of economic times, Haley suggests you embrace the following guidelines:

Develop a personal leadership philosophy. The personal leadership philosophy, or PLP, is the "compass" in the title of Haley's book. Basically, it's a written document that includes your personal values, how you will carry out your responsibilities, what your priorities are, and what you expect of your people. Take your time and really think about what your beliefs and standards are . . . this document is the foundation for everything you do and say from here on out.

Familiarize yourself with goals and values of your organization. Figure out how they fit into your philosophy. Read your company's mission statement and really ponder it. Is it just a string of empty words or do employees live up to it? How can you ensure that your PLP meshes with your company's mission? There should be a certain synchronicity between the two. If your goals and values differ dramatically from the demonstrated ones of your company, you must make a decision: Can you influence your company to live up to the glowing words on its mission statement? Or is it time to move on? Remember Shakespeare's quote from Hamlet: "This above all: to thine ownself be true."

Articulate your personal philosophy and your company's goals/values to your team.Once you've written your PLP, share it with upper-level management and subordinates. Make sure they fully understand every word. Also, explain the connection between your personal philosophy and the goals and values of your organization. Your team needs to be crystal clear on what you stand for and what you expect from them. How else will you ever be able to hold them accountable?

Model your personal leadership philosophy. Live it with passion. Your employees expect you to lead by example. Saying one thing and doing another will not inspire anyone. If you expect your team to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline, you must burn the midnight oil right along with them. Anything less will breed resentment and lose you the respect of your team. And don't forget the most critical part of the equation. "Passion is the key to successful leadership," Haley explains. "No one ever inspired a team by being half-hearted or wishy-washy. When you love your work-when you come in each morning burning with the desire to do a great job and exceed the expectations of customers and stock-holders-well, that's when people really buy into your vision."

Don't be afraid to make the tough decisions. Here's a key parallel between military life and business life. In the heat of combat, leaders must make split-second decisions that are literally matters of life and death. Likewise, the decisions you make at work really can affect the vitality-and in some cases, the very existence-of your organization. That's why you must make your decisions with confidence and resolve. "The right decision isn't always the popular one," Haley reminds us. "And even when we think we're making the right decision, it doesn't always turn out the way we expected. But when you use your PLP to define the boundaries of your decisions, at least you're being true to your own principles and values. In an imperfect world, this is the best you can do."

Hold people accountable. When you are leading men into battle, their lives are in your hands, and yours in theirs. Everyone depends on the rest of the company not to let them down. This is the very definition of accountability. Now, translate this principle to the "battlefield" that is the business world. When you're the leader, you owe it to your team to give 100 percent to everything you do. So does your team. Everyone's livelihood depends on this level of accountability. If you've made the rules clear, there is an unshakable basis from which to provide honest feedback. Do it. Your team expects and wants this consideration from their leader.

Build your bench. Too many businesses view leadership as some mysterious trait you're born with, says Haley. But in service academies it's expected that many people have leadership potential, and these organizations work to bring out that potential. "This is how you should approach leadership training," he says. "As a leader, you are only as good as your ability to develop others. The fast pace of today's business world and the flatter, leaner management structures mean that critical decisions must be made at lower levels than ever before. You must ensure that your people have the leadership ability to make these decisions."

Don't be a lone wolf. And if you're a gray wolf, don't ignore the brown ones. A strong leader is not a one-man (or woman) operation. If you can't delegate, you can't lead. But if you're like many leaders, you may favor those people who you feel most comfortable with-the ones most like you. That's a mistake, says Haley. "In the military you live in close proximity with people from all races, cultures and economic backgrounds," he points out. "You're forced to interact with a diverse group of people in order to get things done, and sometimes the most unlikely lifelong friendships arise. Adopt this attitude in business and you'll go far as a leader. Sometimes people who are very different from you have exactly what your team needs to get a certain job done. Focus on your ability to connect with everyone."

Don't get stuck in survival mode. In anxious times, we tend to operate with tunnel vision, working fast and furious to meet our customer's needs. That's normal. But when things are a bit more relaxed-perhaps during a seasonal lull in business-it's time to step back and reflect on the big picture. Has the market shifted? Have societal changes made your goods and services applicable to more customers? Fewer customers? Are you missing an opportunity to move in a new direction? Don't be afraid to adjust your PLP or your company's goals if there's a good reason to do so. And of course, don't forget to communicate any changes to your team.

Never, ever, ever stop growing. "Life is change," Haley reminds us. "So is business. You must grow as a leader, every day. And your organization must grow as well. In successful organizations, the two will happen in tandem. Don't use an unsteady economy as an excuse to be static; don't be afraid to take well-thought-out risks. Actually, standing still is a risk, because that's when you get run over by the competition."

Finally, says Haley, try to see this uncertain time in your career as an opportunity, not a liability.

"When things aren't going so well, it means you have a chance to really make a difference as a leader," he says. "Think about it. When a company has lots of business and profits are high, there is absolutely no incentive to try something new. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Well, when it is 'broke,' there is a desperate need for someone to 'fix it.' Why shouldn't that someone be you? You can play an integral role in turning around a struggling organization-and at the same time, create a name for yourself as a leader who really makes things happen. What could be more satisfying than that?" About the Authors:

Dennis F. Haley graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967, after which he served in the Nuclear Surface Navy. Following a tour of duty in Vietnam, he returned to Pennsylvania and joined the family business, transforming it from a five-man operation to a multi-million-dollar company. After the company was sold in 1997, Haley decided to use his military experiences to help others become successful business leaders. He now serves as CEO of Academy Leadership (www.academyleadership.com).

Ed Ruggero graduated from West Point in 1980 and served in the U.S. Army for eleven years. He is the author of five novels and several works of non-fiction, including H Hour: U.S. Paratroopers and the Opening of Fortress Europe (HarperCollins, 2003). Ruggero is a member of the Academy Leadership team and an experienced keynote speaker on leadership and leader development. For more information, see www.edruggero.com.