Economic crisis.  It’s the lens through which Americans viewed every aspect of life and work in 2009.  Leadership was no exception, and how leaders meet the challenges of a struggling economy and rising unemployment was a subject of numerous theories, articles and studies.

I found many of the concepts interesting — even amusing.  Why?  Because much of what was said about the leadership skills required to “survive” is just as accurate a statement of the skills effective leaders display in calmer circumstances, regardless of the economic climate or pressures.

Take “Leadership Through the Crisis and After: McKinsey Global Survey Results”:

“… the kinds of leadership behavior that executives say will most help their companies through the current crisis, such as inspiring others and defining expectations and rewards, are the same ones they say will help their companies thrive in the future. The executives’ assessment of what’s needed for the long term hasn’t changed over the past year.”

Nor, would I imagine, has it changed from the years preceding this economic crisis.  But perhaps what has shifted is the relative importance of how leaders inspire others and define expectations. In fact, the manner in which they execute these behaviors is just as critical, if not more so, than the act itself.

A similar report, “Leadership Challenges in Uncertain Times,” penned by Development Dimensions International (DDI) outlines qualities that I would argue are foundational, rather than crisis-only leadership strategies.

1. Take operational control
2. Monitor and adjust
3. Promote innovation
4. Stay cool
5. Communicate hope
6. Engage and empower

When I look back to the pioneers who formulated the most lasting and proven leadership theories of today, many have more to do with leadership characteristics or non-cognitive skills than they do cognitive skills like strategic planning, critical thinking, business acumen, forecasting, procurement and allocation, or operational analysis.

That being said, I do believe that leaders should heighten certain leadership characteristics as the climate demands or dictates, and that there are some leadership competencies that evolve with each new decade — innovation and agility being the most prevalent in the last decade.

What do you think?  Are the most critical leadership skills during crisis cognitive skills or characteristics and traits?  Which are most relevant in this particular economic downturn?  Or do you think those skills and traits are by and large consistent regardless, bull or bear?