We are getting a valuable lesson in corporate leadership these days. With so many companies struggling to survive, and still a few in position to thrive, everyone is looking closely at the tactical strategic decisions being made by executives. I say tactical because we’re very, very focused on short-term actions. People want to know that they’re going to have a job, keep their house, and that the manufacturer of the car they buy is still going to be around next year. The goal of course, is to make smart decisions now that will immediately impact the company while positioning it for longer term success.

 

With the White House requesting that Rick Wagoner step down as chief executive of General Motors, as one of several tough requirements to qualify for further bailout funding, the government is sending a clear message that responsible leadership is paramount to the company’s future. President Obama is under the same scrutiny. In a February NBC/Journal opinion poll, Obama’s personal popularity did very well scoring a favourable opinion with 68% of respondents. His policies however, rated 54%. Still not bad but it does show how a leader – of a country or a company – has to balance confidence and style with strategic decisions that might not be popular, at least for the short term.

 

Employees, unions, suppliers, government and customers all have opinion, expectations and their own set of criteria. Their collective voices and actions can change the course of companies. On the other hand, strong leadership and smart thinking can leverage those voices in a way that builds positive momentum. The pain felt by corporate leadership right now is having to make strategic decisions quickly, some of which will be extremely unpopular and can’t be fairly judged until months or years down the road. Nevertheless, decisions have to made because not taking action is absolutely the worst form of leadership, especially in crisis.

 

There are many tools to help with the decision making process but here’s one quickie that provides a good visual format to weigh the impact on short term versus long term support. Create a quadrant chart using Time (Short Term to Long Term) as your X axis and Response (Acceptance to Resistance) for your Y axis. As you plot your strategies against these dimensions, you want to strike a balance that will ease the impact of your less popular decisions with ones that people in and around your organization will appreciate now. You should also use the quadrant chart with different dimensions to better understand impact on revenue, stability, customer relationships and other aspects that you use to guide your strategic thinking and measure your success.