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Coaching Leaders in a Recession – It’s a Whole New Ballgame


Before - Business Acumen for the Birds

I don’t have to tell you now the world is a totally different place. Before it was BCV -Before Coronavirus. Now we’re just shifting into the ACV – After Coronavirus world. That world is totally different.

My day business is leadership development. We have developed assessments that assess whether people will make money or not or cause it to be made, either in a large company or a small one. Essentially we’re testing business acumen and financial and business impact.

By leaders we don’t just mean those besuited CEOs. It includes every leader at all levels. Every such leader has a virtual P&L, whether they know it or not. ACV our job is to increase the virtual P&L. That’s business acumen.

In BCV no-one cared much to do these types of assessments. After all, everyone was making money. A rising tide lifts all boats. So, leadership development programs, with rare exceptions have never focused on developing business acumen. No need, right?

But in ACV we have a different story. No-one is going to make money now without a lot of effort. And even then maybe not. Many - most? -  leaders who were good for BCV are now fish out of water in ACV.

What were we looking for in leaders BCV? The ability to bring teams together. To promote diversity. To have great soft skills and high EQ. Doesn’t that sound passé right now, if not downright obsolete?

Sure, we need these characteristics in leaders. But priorities have shifted radically. Now it’s going to be all about the money. The rest is a nice-to-have.

Now - Business Acumen is Godliness

ACV we’re looking for leaders who, above all else, have high business acumen. If they don’t, we’ve either got to teach them or they will be roadkill. In the ACV world we can’t be emotional about leadership. We’re going to be in a kind of depression or even worse, for a minimum of 10 years, maybe even a generation. That requires a different approach.

Leadership development in BCV was in reality a luxury market. These programs didn’t make money for the sponsoring company – that is why the cries for ROI never completely disappeared but were still lone voices in the wilderness.

As a luxury good, leadership development didn’t need to do things which were essential like training people in business acumen. The luxury trimmings were precisely those things that you do when times are good, when the heat isn’t on.

Those luxury items were personality and EQ tests, the ability to deal with cultures and soft management techniques. But who can afford to train leaders in them when you’re about to go down the gurgler? Maybe the government, but no-one else.

From Soft to Hard Approaches

Now companies, HR, and leadership development professionals need to do a hard reset. They’ve suddenly got to become a clear part of adding to the business, not just a finishing school for potential leaders. Only by toughening up are they going to get the respect of companies and shareholders who just want their companies to know that business survival comes first.

Much as many of the leadership development traditionalists are not going to like it, they will have to shift; from leadership development programs that are soft and without any ROI to ones that are hard, business-focused and can show business and financial impact in cold hard dollars and cents in the short term.

Be Where the Rubber Meets the Road!

The shift was overdue in any case. How many companies have integrated behavioral finance into their leadership development approaches? Not too many or even none, I think. That’s what I mean.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. In this case the good is that the emerging new generation of leadership development programs will increase margins and value, instead of seeing them as being discretionary.

Want to read more? See our White Papers “Coaching leaders in a Recession” and “A Recession’s Role in Transforming Leadership Development”.

This is one of the ways you can contribute to the good times rolling yet again.




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