Will leaders hold back the recovery?

I’ve had three recent conversations with client CEOs that have me wondering about what kind of role the psychology of leaders is playing in the recession. 

The first client told me that he wanted to ramp up marketing ahead of the recovery but he didn’t know what kind of a trigger to look for; he didn’t want to risk upping his spend only to fall flat in a still-stagnant market.  The second wanted to know how our other client CEOs viewed near-term prospects and whether they’d resumed spending again, viewing us as a leading indicator.  The third was highly pessimistic about the likely pace and trajectory of the turnaround and wanted to know what our other clients were thinking; he thought the few optimistic perspectives I passed along were naive.

They all know the time is going to come for more hiring, investing and marketing.  Not only are they unsure about when that’s going to be, they’re not even sure how to tell.  And they are not going to go first.  Until they’re more comfortable, they’re going to play it safe, because the punishment for risk-taking is one of the major lessons of the recession. 

If those CEOs – and many others I’ve talked to – are representative, that hesitance is going to slow the recovery, as leaders around the world wait for a sign or for someone else to show that it’s safe to invest in growth again.

How is your leadership thinking about the “when to step on the gas” question?  What has to happen before they’ll go for it?

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