Guest Column: Tough Times For Leaders…How To Differentiate Yourself


Gary Slack

By Gary Slack, Independent Business Advisor and former President of U.S. Combat Systems at BAE Systems

We have been in a tough business and economic environment for more than three years now and the challenges keep coming.   In general tough times bring out the best or worst in people…the same is true of leaders.   With a slow recovery and no real end in sight, those companies who survive and who thrive is largely dependent on leadership.

Faced with rapidly declining markets, many companies have had to significantly reduce their headcount and capacity in order to remain competitive.  While necessary, this is one of the most disruptive actions a company will undertake. Changing the status quo is never easy.   When employees and leaders are faced with the uncertainty and fear of job loss many go into the survival mode. They hunker down, they don’t make decisions, they defer any risk, and they don’t share information.  All these behaviors manifest themselves precisely at the time when the business can least afford it.   As businesses strive to remain competitive in a difficult market, they need everyone to perform at the highest levels.  This takes good leaders.  Good leaders choose to focus on the human element and turn their attention to leveraging the power of their people assets.

How do you as a leader maintain the confidence of the workforce and come out of the current cycle better than your competition….your actions during the tough times will determine your fate.  Here are a few suggestions to differentiate yourself from your competition in bad times or in good;

1)     Employees are looking for open and honest feedback from their leadership.  Tell employees how they are doing on a regular basis … both good and bad.

2)      Communicate early and often.  Tell them what you are doing and why.  They may not like the message you give but the majority will appreciate you shooting straight with them.     Don’t sugarcoat things.  You will lose your credibility and your employees will resent you for it.

3)     Employees want to be part of the solution or at least be given an opportunity to participate in the process…Collaborate with your staff to the extent possible.  Employees who are empowered and take ownership of a problem are far more effective.

4)     Employees want consistency from their leadership…consistency of temperament, consistency of values, and consistency of actions.  Nothing rattles employee confidence and morale during a crisis more than leaders displaying inconsistent behavior.

5)     Be visible.  Make time to get out into the work space and meet informally with employees.  You will be amazed at what you learn.

6)     Go out of your way to recognize employees who are doing good work.  No fancy or expensive recognition plans are needed.  A simple email to the group or praising the employee during a staff meeting makes a world of difference.  Everybody wants to feel valued in the workplace.

These six simple actions will quickly deliver results. …the differentiator will be the one who comes out of a down cycle with new products or offerings and with people lining up to work for their company. As the old saying goes, “people join companies but they leave leaders.”  Don’t be a leader who ignores the human element.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Gary Slack is an independent Business Advisor, serving companies in the government contracting community.
Mr. Slack served as president of BAE Systems’ U.S. Combat Systems business, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia until the end of 2011. In this capacity he oversaw all company operations involving more than 9,000 employees across 16 states.

Mr. Slack joined BAE Systems in 1999 as vice president of finance and controller, of the U.S. subsidiaries of heritage BAE Systems North America and was promoted to vice president of finance and chief financial officer in 2003. During his tenure at BAE Systems North America, the company acquired 10 businesses in the areas of diverse services, information technology, information solutions, electronic solutions, platform production programs, and experienced overall revenue growth from $2 billion to approximately $10 billion.

As a key architect in creating the Land & Armaments group, Mr. Slack was intimately involved with strategy, business integration, and major acquisitions, including the purchase of United Defense in 2005 and Armor Holdings in 2007. As a result he was appointed vice president of finance and chief financial officer of the newly created Land & Armaments Operating Group.

Mr. Slack has more than twenty-seven years of progressive experience in the government contracting industry ranging from professional services, information technology, electronics, and platform production. He served on the board of directors of BAE Systems AB (Sweden) from 2007 and remained as its chairman until March 2009. He also served as a key industry advisor on the FNSS (Turkey) joint venture board. His career success then led to his appointment to the president role in December 2008. During his tenure he led the business transformation of his company resulting in a more competitive and profitable enterprise.

Prior to joining BAE Systems, Mr. Slack was the director of group finance for TRW’s Systems & Information Technology Group. Previously, he advanced through positions of increased responsibility with BDM International, Inc., in the areas of business management, financial reporting, and treasury services, culminating with his final role as director of finance and assistant controller in 1998. He also worked with Honeywell Federal Systems, Inc. from 1985 – 1989 in various financial management roles, and with the Virginia Department of Taxation as an Auditor in 1984.

Mr. Slack holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration (accounting) from Longwood University in Virginia. He is a certified public accountant and a member of AICPA, and Financial Executives International. He is a member of the corporate advisory board for the College of Business and Economics, Longwood University, a member of the board of directors for the Army Heritage Center Foundation, and serves on the advisory board of JWF Industries.



Grow your executive network with like-minded executives and thought leaders in DC, MD, and VA.

Learn More About Membership

Comments are closed.