We are now in the societal version of the financial crisis that reared its head in 2008. I was working at American Express in 2008 and with a front row seat to the recession, the picture was bleak. And here’s what CEO Ken Chenault and his senior staff did: they talked to us, and kept talking to us. All the time. Every week. They told us what they were afraid of. They told us what kept them up at night. They shared data with us. They didn’t give up. They urged us to do whatever we could with whatever we had from wherever we were in the company. And so I did. I’m going to write him a letter and thank him for his example that I carry to this day.
I realize that my expectations of leadership are very high, and I have no intention of lowering them. I didn’t always agree with Ken’s decisions while I was at Amex (and sometimes I adamantly and publicly disagreed), but I certainly always respected him. I always believed he was trying to do the right thing given extenuating and complex circumstances. I know that no matter how hard I was working, he was working harder.
My boss at Toys R Us, Bob G., was the same way. He was always invested in who I was as a human being first, and as an employee second. And he would often tell me that in addition to showing it through his world-class mentoring and advice.
I recognize that I have been tremendously fortunate to have had many great leaders during my career. (Some god-awful ones, too, but we’ll save that for another post.) CEOs, don’t throw away an opportunity to exercise leadership and to inspire your people, especially during these trying and difficult times. That’s when your people need leaders the most—not when the sailing is smooth but when the water is choppy and the direction unclear. Your people need you. Don’t fail them.