The Winds of Change Test the Mettle of True Leadership

The Winds of Change Adena Friedman

In this LinkedIn series, professionals explain how to lead in times of turmoil or growth.Adena Friedman, President of Nasdaq writes about the test of leadership during times of turmoil.

Times of transition or turmoil are the test of leadership. Period.

It’s not difficult for an organization to think itself both successful and smart when times are good, when the economy is rolling ahead, your industry is in the spotlight, and your products or services are much in demand. Often, those forces are tailwinds the organization can ride like a surfer on a cresting wave – they hold the leader up high and wash over any underlying "rocky" areas.

Companies can often get away with the wrong or even weak leadership when times are good. Some leaders may even look bold and heroic when the winds are at your back. But when a headwind approaches, forward motion can stall. Headwinds kick up in the form of an economic downturn or new regulations, a geopolitical crisis, or a powerful competitor — and weak leadership can quickly become exposed. Suddenly, those underlying flaws surface, and the things you never saw or previously overlooked — those traits born of weak leaders — loom ominously large.

Now the task at hand becomes to set the organization on the right path forward, but in the immediate short-term, to stop the "bleeding." It is rare that the leader who never saw the headwinds coming, or did not properly prepare the company to manage through them, is the right leader for the job ahead. Ultimately, the next phase in the company’s evolution may require new thinking and a new team at the top.

But great leaders shine in periods of turmoil and transition. That’s when you witness their innate ability to set a path forward and establish priorities. Top leaders in transition are able to shed the noise and distractions swirling around in times of change, and are able to refocus everyone on the core businesses and ensure the clients’ interests truly come to the fore. It’s more than just a matter of passion and conviction; it’s also the ability to cultivate that passion and conviction into the right actions that enable the company to survive and, ultimately, to thrive.

Such leaders also know their limitations; they have confidence in their strengths and know their weaknesses. They understand that they need great people next them to manage through crisis and to rebuild a strong, resilient business, and they’re not afraid to hire people who may be smarter than they are, or who have a particular talent in a certain area, to fill in their weaknesses and supplement their strengths. They know that with the right team, anything is possible — and their job is to make the possible happen. At the end of the day, we have to think back to what Darwin once said, which was, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Adena Friedman

Adena T. Friedman currently serves as President of Nasdaq. In this role, Ms. Friedman is responsible for overseeing the strategy and operations as well as having financial responsibility for the company’s Listing Services, Information Services (comprising Indexes and Data Products) and Technology Solutions (comprising Market Technology and Corporate Solutions) business segments.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.