The only thing that's sinking faster than the economy is the credibility of leadership at virtually every level.
It seems that everyone with a microphone or keyboard -- including leaders, pundits, the media, and the blogosphere -- "knows" how to solve our problems. Our society is now operating under crushing levels of empty certitude.
There is only one certainty. The global economy is in completely uncharted territory. We've sailed into a raging storm with no weather forecast, no barometer, no map, and no compass. Any leader or commentator who says they really know what's going on is pumping their own brand of sunshine.
For once, I'd like to hear someone answer the question, "What happens next?" with the only answer that makes sense: "I don't know."
As a senior executive, when you talk to your stakeholders -- including employees, customers, partners, investors, and thought leaders -- you need to get comfortable with the "I don't know" answer. When you say it, you put into words what we all know. That's the first step toward improving your own credibility and your organization's future performance.
But these days, saying what everyone knows seems, to some, an admission of weakness or inadequacy. These people are living in a state of dangerous denial. There IS a dead elephant in the room. It's not just taking a nap.
Of course, "I don't know" is only half your message. The other half is to remind your stakeholders of what they do know to be true. Economic cycles come and go. However bad it is now, this cycle will wane. Strong, cohesive organizations that buckle down to work have the best chance in the future. Last year's capabilities, ingenuity, drive, and pride of work remain intact.
So tell your stakeholders this. "We may take a hard hit. We may stagger or even fall. But that's not failure. That's the cost of doing business. In the end, the only thing that really matters is getting up and trying again."