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leadership OS

Brain circuits

Do you possess these 3 factors that separate great leaders from the rest?

Published 20 May 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

In the wake of the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, some companies have thrived, while others have struggled to stay afloat or had to close their doors completely.

We have studied thousands of companies through several crises starting with the Great Depression. What we discovered is that companies that flourished through rough times all had one thing in common: their leaders’ actions.

The recipe for success

Three key business behaviors defined success for companies that excelled in spite of crises. These companies all embraced a combination of efficiency, evolution and empowerment.

Efficiency is where most companies go immediately, looking for cost-cutting measures and cash flow. It is important to be smart about the process and focus not just on slashing costs, but evaluating how to make your company fitter. For example, during the last recession, Office Depot and Staples both cut costs by 10%. Office Depot cut costs evenly across the board, but Staples cut strategically, in low-performing sectors while still investing in other areas. Staples ended up significantly outperforming its competitors.

Evolution refers to how one develops their business for future growth. The top 10% of companies that performed well during crises invested in things like research and development, and marketing. This is also a time to look at technologies that can move your company forward. Recessions drive new technology, because adapting new solutions can often cost less during a recession and businesses can take advantage of production downtime to upgrade systems.

Empowerment is the behavior where most companies often have trouble. In a crisis, many leaders immediately feel they should turn to command-and-control behaviors, when the exact opposite is actually true. The highest value in terms of sensitivity to customers comes from local teams, so it is important to decentralize and let ideas flow from the bottom to the top. This only works if people down the chain feel empowered, so it is important to focus on the psychology of your teams.

To create an atmosphere where your people and teams exhibit the three behaviors, you need to look at what I call the leadership operating system (OS). You can find out what constitutes a leadership OS and what you need to do to cultivate it in part two of this series.

This is the first part of a two-part series. Part two is available here


Shlomo Ben-Hur

Shlomo Ben-Hur

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior

Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur works on the psychological and cultural aspects of leadership, and the strategic and operational elements of talent management and corporate learning. He is the Director of IMD’s Changing Employee Behavior program and IMD’s Organizational Learning in Action, and author of the books Talent IntelligenceThe Business of Corporate Learning, Changing Employee Behavior: a Practical Guide for Managers and Leadership OS.


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