Six Strategies for Leading in Tough Times

By Michael McIntyre, Ph.D.

When the economy gets rocky, it is game time for manufacturing leaders. Leading fearlessly when volumes

are strong is one thing, but it takes real skills to lead during tough times. The recent economic downturn has

many manufacturing plants reeling. Here are six tips for leading through today’s volatile economy:

1. Be reassuring. First and foremost, people want to know that everything is okay, and their jobs are not in

jeopardy. However, things may not be okay, and their jobs may be in jeopardy. Assure them that you

understand their fears, that you are looking out for them, and you have a strategy for the business.

2. Present a plan. People are looking to you for direction. Are we going to pursue new customers, cut back

on production, offer a new service? People need something to rally around. Waiting around for the

bottom to drop out is not a strategy, and it will do little to motivate them.

3. Look out for your people. Do everything you can to keep people employed. If you must cut back on

hours, in‐source services, or cut pay (including your own), make them aware that you are doing whatever

you can to treat people right in this time of need. This is your chance to show your loyalty, and that loyalty

will be repaid in spades through employee commitment.

4. Be open and real. Keep your employees informed about the state of the business. Good, bad, or ugly,

people need to know. By not telling them, their imaginations can run wild, and that is bad for morale and

productivity. And if you do tell them, they just might have ideas that can help.

5. Be vocal and visible. You may be working your tail off on employees’ behalf behind the scenes, but they

will not know about it unless they can see you and hear you. Stay connected with your team, even if you

would rather crawl up into a ball and be by yourself.

6. Be calm. The economy makes people nervous enough without you adding to it. It is time to buckle down,

not freak out. You do not need to be artificially cheerful, but by staying positive and on message, you can

help people stay focused on work.

Dr. Michael McIntyre is faculty at the University of Tennessee and leads the course Strategies for Effective Leadership: Solutions to Today’s Top

Leadership Challenges. He can be reached at 865-974-5001 or mmcintyr@utk.edu.