As markets plunge around the world, how should leaders respond?
Let’s assume you’re leading not a nation or a central bank – you can’t control the economy – but rather are leading pretty much anything else. For a model of how to react, I think of a talk I had with Charles Schwab, in front of an audience, at the depth of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008. Stock markets were down about 50% from their peak 16 months earlier and on the day of our talk had just dropped to an 11-year low. The audience was clearly jittery and looking to the chief of a major investment firm for wisdom.
Of course Schwab had no more knowledge of the future than anyone else. His effectiveness was all in his attitude – relaxed, even funny, and above all, fearless. “I’ve been through nine of these darn breaks,” he said, and then explained how they always turn around. To many in the audience, the situation looked like Armageddon. To Schwab it was just another one of the “these darn breaks.” To make sure no one missed the message, he said, “It will get better. I guarantee it!”
How not to do it? Look at Chinese President Xi Jinping. Or rather, don’t look at him, because you can’t. Though the Chinese market is collapsing the worst of any, Xi isn’t showing fearlessness or anything else. He’s invisible. As Fortune’s Scott Cendrowski writes this morning from China, “Silence from Beijing compounds growing fear that it may not after all be able to manage a soft landing for the economy.”
Moments like this are when leaders earn their pay. Showing fearlessness is an essential part of how. Even if you’re not in a market-related business, everyone in your organization is worried about what these events mean for them; they’re preoccupied and possibly unable to focus on work. They’re looking to you for guidance.
Sometimes you can show fearlessness tangibly, for example by personally buying company stock at the new, low price. Nikesh Arora just bought $500 million of stock in the company of which he’s president, Softbank, which has been down sharply. Even if you can’t do anything concrete, attitude counts for a lot. Franklin Roosevelt wisely kept his cigarette holder tilted jauntily upward.
Note that what counts is showing fearlessness – regardless of whether you’re actually afraid. You may have good reason to be worried. Back around the time I interviewed Schwab, I spoke privately with another CEO who for obvious reasons didn’t want to be quoted by name. He told me, “Any CEO who isn’t terrified right now has no sense at all.”
Fine – nothing wrong with that. But for leaders at a time like this, what matters is what you show.
What We’re Reading Today
China’s Black Monday
Even the state-owned Xinhua news agency is using that term for today’s trading, in which the Chinese stock market fell 8.5%, erasing all this year’s gains. The rest of the world is feeling reverberations, as the decline signals that China’s leadership may not stick a ‘soft-landing.’ In the U.S., some have called for the Fed to postpone a rate increase. Fortune
A Biden bid gains steam
After a weekend meeting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leader of the Democratic party’s progressive wing, speculation has grown that Vice President Joe Biden will launch a presidential run. Bloomberg
An energy man’s plan to bring electricity to the world…
…doesn’t actually include many power plants. Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke Energy, the largest electric power company in the U.S., calls for entrepreneurs and businesses to focus on small, local solutions aided by new technology. USA Today
Coca-Cola’s CEO apologizes
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Muhtar Kent apologized for his company’s support of the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that downplays the role of caloric reduction in favor of increased exercise as an obesity solution. Kent promises transparency, thus raising questions about why transparency wasn’t a goal already. MarketWatch
Intel’s giant shift in focus
The chip maker known for multi-billion-dollar fabrication plants will invest $100 million in cloud software, in an effort to reduce vulnerability to Amazon Web Services. NYT
Building a Better Leader
Ben & Jerry’s strong image remains despite Unilever’s control
The ice cream maker’s founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield can thank their “external board” for that. NYT
Let your employees enjoy their vacation
It’s a sign of a strong team. Fortune
The difference between influential and manipulative
It’s a fine line. Fast Company
Are you measuring increases in productivity correctly?
Probably not. It’s not just how many more widgets your workers produce. It’s “multi-dimensional.” Knowledge@Wharton
Chipotle plans to hire 4,000 new employees…
…on one day, Sept. 9. It’s a move to encourage applicants as fast food companies battle for workers in a tightening labor market. WSJ
There’s a ‘career literacy’ rate problem
Too many high school and college students don’t have enough information to make an informed career decision, says the CEO of the Global Pathways Institute at Arizona State University, William Symonds. Human Resources Executive
The dark side of business travel
It can lead to early aging, a weaker immune system, and blood clots. Inc.
Up or Out
AstraZeneca has named Sean Bohen, a former Genentech executive, as its chief medical officer. MarketWatch
John Correnti, who headed a number of steel companies, including Nucor, died on Tuesday at age 68. NYT
Fortune Reads and Videos
Google could rig the 2016 elections
So says a researcher, who calls it the Search Engine Manipulation Effect. Fortune
Softbank President makes a very Steve Ballmer move
Nikesh Arora will invest nearly $500 million in the Japanese telecom and Internet firm. It’s reminiscent of when Ballmer bought 949,000 shares of Microsoft in 1989, after it had fallen 27% in a month, to show his faith in the company. Turns out Ballmer borrowed it all. Fortune
Here’s what will happen to Cuban cigar prices…
…if the U.S lifts its trade embargo. Fortune
The rise of convenience store sushi
It’s a booming offering that has grown 27% in four years. Fortune
Vince McMahon, founder and CEO of the World Wrestling Federation, turns 70. Biography
Mike Huckabee, Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Arkansas, turns 60. Biography
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|Produced by Ryan Derousseau|