What are the characteristics of effective leadership during social times. geopolitical and economic uncertainty? The issue – and a wide range of ideas – were front and center at this year’s Multicultural Senior Leaders Conference, hosted by Morgan Stanley, Target and Deloitte in partnership with the Executive Leadership Council, Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics and the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility and Catalyst. The two-day virtual event, titled Against the odds: Leading in difficult times, brought together senior executives, investors, entrepreneurs and policy makers to reflect and share their experience.
“Over the past few years, we have witnessed immense tragedy, chaos and loss,” said Carla Harris, Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, in her welcoming remarks. “Yet in the midst of these difficult times, we too as our communities and our leaders, have shown remarkable resilience, and we have continued to hold each other accountable and work for meaningful and lasting change. .
People also expect more from companies, which many conference attendees noted. Consumers, employees and investors all hold organizations and their leaders more accountable for living their values, especially those related to diversity and inclusion. As Susan Jin Davis, head of social impact at Al Roker Entertainment, put it, “there is intolerance into intolerance now.”
For Selma Bueno, head of multicultural customer strategy at Morgan Stanley, today’s economic landscape is a glass half full for multicultural entrepreneurs: “In times like today, businesses really need a wide range of perspectives. , they must view, what are the opportunities? Diversity of voices, she noted, helps companies gain that broader understanding.
Morgan Stanley Chairman and Chief Executive James Gorman offered his own advice as he reflected on leadership in good and bad economic times. “Leading is a privilege,” he said, “and leading specifically in times of crisis is a gift.” After the 2008 financial crisis and over the past uncertain years, he noted that leaders “have to be very resilient and very intentional about the path they go down in order to give people a sense of calm.” Moreover, they should not panic in the face of market volatility, but rather take advantage of the upside. Lead with caution, he says, but not with fear.
Other key takeaways from the conference include:
- Act with foresight. A leader’s role is not just to control damage in the aftermath of a disaster, but to implement prevention and mitigation tactics that protect an organization well in advance, said Erika James. , a member of the board of directors of Morgan Stanley and dean of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. James said she advocates for “understanding organizational vulnerabilities to specific threats” before crisis hits and “doing the work of preparing the organization for potential threats, even in seemingly favorable times.”
- Be aware of yourself. As someone who rose through the corporate ranks from administrative assistant to CEO of Wellington Management, Jean M. Hynes offered this advice: “The most important thing is to be self-aware. As a leader of a company, it is really crucial to know who am I? And it could be argued that such advice is even more critical when difficult circumstances may cause you to question your decisions. Instead, Hynes says, now is the time for leaders to call on their confidence: “Build on your strengths. »
- Focus on people first. Oscar Munoz, the former chairman and CEO of United Airlines, said that as the leader of a company that was at the “point of the spear” during the pandemic, when business began to falter before even the lockdown and revenue eventually bottomed out at 93%, he came to understand how crucial it is to treat employees with empathy. “You can’t afford to lose their trust and commitment, especially during a crisis. More than ever, my motto during the pandemic was to listen, learn and then conduct. Don’t assume that because you’re in charge, you have all the answers.