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When the Going Gets Tough ... (continued)

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When the Going Gets Tough ... (continued)

“People wanted to know what things would look like when Xerox was done with its restructuring,” says Ancona. “They wanted her to paint a vision.”

Mulcahy did just that in the form of a Wall Street Journal article shared internally with employees, which depicted Xerox five years into the future as a company on much firmer financial footing. The article, says Ancona, served as the rallying point, painting a “broad enough vision that people could see themselves in it.”

“In times of crisis, we don't know what's happening day to day,” she adds. “One day we're up, one day we're down. You have to fight against the tendency to do everything you did before. You need to innovate, to push to engage large numbers of people in the organization and ask, ‘What new directions do we need to take?’ You may have no choice but to try some new things that you haven't tried before.”

According to Wladawsky-Berger, that's what great leaders do.

“They'll take you to the Promised Land. Great leaders might not know where the Promised Land is, but they start walking, and everyone will start walking with them,” he says. “Together, eventually, they'll find it. It may not be the Promised Land they were looking for, but they usually make up their own.”

TO THE BRINK AND BACK

While Samuel L. Clemens was living abroad in 1897, an erroneous report appeared in London's Evening Sun citing the near death of the writer better known to the world as Mark Twain. While it was Twain's cousin, Dr. Jim Clemens, who was actually ill, Twain quipped to investigating reporters that “the report of my death has been grossly exaggerated” — and so too has the death of many a company.

“Take Apple,” says Paul Osterman, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Professor of Human Resources at MIT Sloan, and author of the new book, The Truth About Middle Managers: Who They Are, How They Work, Why They Matter. “They died and then they came back to life.”

As reported by FORTUNE Magazine in its March 5, 2008, issue, the return of Steve Jobs to Apple in 1997 is “one of the most remarkable stories in business.” Apple, “then facing its own near-death experience” and on the verge of bankruptcy, returned with a vengeance under its co-founder's care, boasting a market value last year “of $108 billion — more than Merck, McDonald's, or Goldman Sachs.”

Apple is certainly not alone in its remarkable back-to-life experience after premature predictions of its demise. As Wladawsky-Berger recalls from his 37 years at IBM, the corporate giant faced a similar fate in the early 1990s after a major shift in technology from mainframes to microprocessors. What saved IBM, he says, was its superb technical culture and research labs, as well as its employment of “smart people at all levels.”

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