McGrath: A Leadership Case Study

The economic meltdown that took place in 2008 affected a lot of companies, and Aloca was one of them. Prior to the crash, Alcoa was considered to be one of the best managed companies around. But with the crash came a huge shift in the market: Aloca’s key product was aluminum and market prices for aluminum were crashing. The crisis hit suddenly and with drastic impact. Alcoa’s long term customers were complaining that they could not pay their bills and Alcoa’s was being drained of cash.

Of course, top management held an emergency meeting. The first day was dedicated to how bad things really were. That was truly depressing. Then the second day was devoted to finding solutions to each of the major problems at hand. The key was finding savings everywhere — cutting costs to survive.

The interesting thing about this story from Rita’s book is how inspiring the work then became. managers took ownership of the solutions that they were advancing. They found all sorts of creative ways to reinvent how they manufactured their product. And in the end, they created a much stronger company that emerged from the crisis reinvigorated rather than exhausted.

Leadership can do that. But what about the rest of us? If competitive advantage is less reliable than it used to be, what about our job security? Income security? Our whole system is based on that security. How will the rest of us cope? That is next

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