Headwinds, Wise Counsel, and Resilience

With threats of recession and rising uncertainty, the horizon looks seemingly bleak. But alas, these are not the greatest challenges facing leaders in the last few decades.
H. Michael Burgett
Contributing Writer

We have been here before. Economic downturn, inflation, chaos, uncertainty – as technology executives and business leaders we definitely have had the opportunity to guide our organizations through challenging times in the past. The dot-com bust, the real estate crash, a pandemic – yes we are definitely battle-tested in navigating our organizations through difficult times.

And no one can argue we are beginning to experience some prevailing and familiar headwinds. In fact, in a recent article for Boardmember.com, research analyst Isabella Mourgelas reported that public company directors’ confidence is at its lowest level with 55% of board member participants projecting worsening conditions in the next year.

Directors say supply chain issues are causing damaging effects to business and they don’t expect them to improve in the near term. Rising interest rates amid record high price increases will continue to cause obstacles for businesses, according to directors, especially as hiring remains a challenge.

Isabella Mourgelas, Research Analyst, Chief Executive Group

But alas there is a glimmer of hope in the same data as 25% of directors surveyed expect improving conditions 12 months from now and that number is trending up from previous polling in 2022. Similarly, in his weekly global economic update for Deloitte Insights, Ira Kalish, Deloitte’s Chief Global Economist reports that “most forecasts, including Deloitte’s suggest a low probability of a recession this year or even next year”. Mighty but small is the contingent that retains a positive outlook for the near term.

What is One to Believe

Personally, I reflect back to 2007/2008, as a young(er) entrepreneur in my sixth year of building CIO Partners. Our company was in the midst of reshaping the executive search industry for technology executives and was coming off one of our strongest years to date. Prevailing economic winds were as they are now all over the place. Some expected the good times to continue, others expected a quick turnaround, and there were many who predicted a worst-case scenario. Well, we all know how it turned out. It was challenging and scary, yet we survived, and most came out stronger as a result. I call this battle-scar #1.

Fast forward to 2020, once again we were all riding high in the saddle. Many were reporting Q1 as their strongest quarter in some time. And then came March and the pandemic. For some leaders this might have been their first global economic challenge to navigate and definitely for all given the human impact, it was the worse challenge that many of us have ever faced as business leaders and as individuals in our lifetimes.

And while both of these examples had differing levels of impact for different organizations, they are presented here not to be minimized but rather to point out that as leaders we have developed capacity for uncertainty and resilience.

Where Do We Turn

With apologies to Paul Simon, it is not best to approach challenging times in solitary fashion. As I consider previous periods in which we faced similar uncertainty, I recognize it was during these times that I drew closer to others. Specifically, in a professional setting, I can share that my investment in a peer networking group, provided strong counsel from leaders outside of my organization who were facing similar challenges at the time.

As I navigated challenges in the business environment and in some cases personal challenges, having the ability to share, ask questions, and receive input further strengthened my path. Without the benefit of having a band of trusted brothers and sisters, I know for sure that I would not have emerged in the best way possible if I had attempted to navigate alone, dependent on my council alone.

Whatever comes out of these gates, we have a better chance of survival if we work together.

Russell Crowe (Maximus), Gladiator

It’s Time for Community

As technology executives, we must consider that when these times cause us to bear down in order to tackle the challenge head-on, we must be careful not to withdraw from community but rather seek it. Are you involved in a community of CIOs/CTOs/CISOs or tech leaders? Are you deriving value from these relationships? In either case, I would encourage a technology leader, whether an up and comer, or as a tenured leader to find that community of peer executives. Build relationships, seek council, and start to assemble your own board of advisors.

Regardless of the seas that lie ahead, let’s find those with whom we can navigate together.

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