Five Recession Survival Skills

It's a scary new world, but IT leaders who adjust can still prosper.

2. Inspiring Calm

Workers can't influence the corporate decisions that could determine whether they'll keep their current schedules, pay grades or jobs, and as a result, they can feel powerless and panicked.

But while these times are tumultuous, your leadership shouldn't be, says Peter Whatnell, CIO at Sunoco and president of the Society for Information Management.

"Right now, your leadership counts more than it has for the past 10 years. And you have to be a leader for your staff and a leader for your company," he explains. "You have to let them know that you're going to keep them up to date. You have to maintain a positive but honest communication with your staff, deal with issues as they come up, and if you have to make cuts, make them humanely and decisively."

Even those who tend to get flustered under pressure can learn to have a calm demeanor, says Susan J. Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa Leadership a leadership coaching service.

"You have to be able to find what your hot buttons are and make sure that when you feel [panic] coming, you take a breath. And when you're assessing other people's fears and emotions, ask a lot of questions and give them opportunities to express their concerns," she says.

The key, says Bethanis, is to turn your own or others' concerns away from panic by developing action plans. "Go from a victim mentality to 'What's the goal? What should we do?' " she says. "It's not denial. It's being realistic, but it's also being positive. It's calming."

3. Motivating Workers

"Even in this downturn, strong performers and good IT professionals are still very much in demand, so retention of top talent continues to be one of the main worries of an IT leader," says Raji Arasu, vice president of product development at eBay. That means executives need to connect with junior-level workers now more than ever.

Unfortunately, most companies don't have the cash to put staffers into cutting-edge assignments that might motivate them, Bethanis says.

Given that, IT leaders need to create low-cost ways to keep their best employees engaged, she says. Give them new responsibilities and assign them to different types of projects. "You need to be talking to them on a regular basis, asking 'How is it going? What help do you need? How can I blaze a trail for you?' " she adds.

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