THE global recession, triggered by the financial and economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, played a significant role in the collapse of large financial institutions and the failure of businesses.

This resulted in on-going job losses, prolonged unemployment, tight credit and lower housing wealth. 

As organisations continue to struggle with the pace of change in the shifting economy, leaders are under pressure to stay ahead of the curve. 

To gain that competitive advantage, leaders need to become stronger visionary leaders who can lead under pressure, create an integrated organisation, champion change and help teams navigate that change.

So the crucial question is: What makes a leader effective in such turbulent times?

There are four vital qualities that leaders should continually develop and demonstrate during such times: 



 Leaders venture first into the unknown

The main difference between a leader and a manager is that a leader sets the vision and leads the team into new territory.

A manager, on the other hand, upholds the vision and preserves the ground that has already been taken.

A leader sets a high standard and encourages the team to stretch while a manager relies on control and accepts the status quo. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Hal Moore (portrayed by Mel Gibson in the 2002 war film We Were Soldiers that dramatises the Battle of Ia Drang on Nov 14, 1965) left a legacy of inspirational leadership.

Not only did he fight next to his men, he told them: “When we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind.”

Not once did he ask his men to take a risk he was not willing to take first. His soldiers fought not because they were part of the United States Army but for their leader who cared for them. 



 Leaders are persistent

American essayist, editor, critic and lecturer Hamilton Wright Mable said: “Don’t be afraid of opposition. Remember, a kite rises against, not with, the wind.”

When a leader faces an impossible task or obstacle, he embraces the “wind” or opposition and uses that force to achieve the desired end by allowing the “kite” to naturally soar and dip across the sky.

In times of uncertainty, leaders do not give up when the going gets tough. They do whatever it takes to finish well.



 Leaders serve sacrificially

Zig Ziglar, an American author, salesman and motivational speaker, was famous for saying: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

It is about serving others. In fact, one of the greatest paradoxes of leadership is that real influence comes not from ordering others around and letting people know you are the boss.

It comes from serving others, sacrificially and extravagantly. 

Inspiring leaders make others around them start considering ways they can serve these leaders in return.

True influence comes through humbly serving others.

Lao-Tzu, a philosopher and poet of ancient China, wrote about it in the 5th century BC, and he defined servant leadership as: “To lead people, walk behind them.”



 Leaders fight the right battles

Leaders encounter challenges and issues on a daily basis.

Good leaders just cannot afford to fight every battle, given their limited energy and resources. Moreover, some battles are not worth fighting.

It takes a wise leader to count the cost and decide which ones to fight for. The danger with fighting every battle that comes your way is that it is possible to lose more than you set out to gain. 

Sometimes, when a conflict arises, ego gets in the way, and that leads to the desire to win at all cost.

Although ego is an essential trait for a leader because it lends conviction to his vision, if it is not balanced with other behaviours such as empathy and collaboration, it can lead to undesirable consequences.

When leaders fight the wrong battles — for example, they want their way even if there are valid alternatives — their actions can easily be perceived as personal attacks against the people who disagree with them.

The consequence is, these leaders may lose the trust and loyalty of their allies in the long run. 


Article by Dinah Leong, a senior consultant with Training Edge International. She has 15 years of training and consulting experience, and has designed and delivered many leadership and service excellence programmes for organisations. To contact her, e-mail or visit