How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

The current crisis reminds me of something that happened to me years ago, before I had leadership skills.

I had an interview with a big company, and it was scheduled to take place on an upper floor of a tall building.

I took the elevator, which turned out to be the wrong choice.

Normally, I’d have chosen the stairs, but I was feeling nervous and didn’t want to make my heart rate increase – it was already beating fast.

The elevator got about halfway up to my floor and abruptly stopped.

The doors didn’t open.

There were several other people in there with me, and I don’t like to be in small spaces.

I had already been nervous, but now I was panicking. 

I felt like no matter how much I breathed, my lungs couldn’t get enough air.

A woman in the elevator asked if she could hold my hand, which I thought was strange, but I was too dazed to protest.

I nodded, too breathless to actually say anything.

This woman started talking to me about her morning routine and how her husband had 3 pairs of slippers.

She told me about her dog, that people always thought it was a pitbull (it was not).

Slowly, I relaxed.

I listened to her talk about the funny little details of her life until the elevator finally started moving again. 

The whole time, that woman had remained calm and friendly, like we were acquaintances who bumped into each other at the grocery store.

When it was over, we both got off at the next floor, and I awkwardly thanked her before rushing up to my interview.

I didn’t get the job probably because my nerves and distractedness were obvious during the interview.

But I still remember that woman…

She was a leader.

As a lifetime academic, I had always avoided thinking of myself as a leader.

How could I manage or lead anyone?

I was just a quiet denizen of my university lab – I had planned on being a professor before I realized it wasn’t a viable career path.

But the empathy and strength of that woman stuck with me.

She showed me the human side of leadership – a side I knew I possessed.

That experience inspired me to develop my leadership skills throughout my career, and I eventually became a manager in industry.

Leaders don’t have to come from a specific background or follow a particular style.

PhDs are in a great position to take on leadership roles, and if you allow yourself to be optimistic, you will come to realize that now—in the midst of a recession—is the ideal time to work on those leadership skills. 

Maybe even as the CEO of your own business.

It’s a far cry from being a professor, but PhDs have what it takes.

Why The Recession Is Your Chance To Develop As A Leader

Would you scoff at the idea of a PhD as a successful industry leader?

If so, realize that PhD leadership is not a new idea – the number of people who recognize PhDs as natural leaders is increasing everyday..

For example, the Arts Education Policy Review argued that PhDs are excellent choices as leader leaders for what they call “intellectual entrepreneurship,” an attitude of engagement with the world with an emphasis on innovation.

For some reason, though, most PhDs never work toward major leadership roles.

Only a few of the largest companies in the world are run by PhD holders.

Yet the kind of drive and momentum that most PhDs possess is remarkable.

You have not only a strong technical background but a rare, high degree of willpower.

PhDs must look ahead to acquire their degrees – they have to innovate and see into the future of science.

These traits—foresight and strength of will—are in high demand right now.

The world is full of uncertainty from a viral outbreak and a damaged economy.

People are scared, and they need leaders.

Life may not be ideal right now, but there are still positive things – this is the perfect environment for PhDs who want to hone their leadership skills.

Maybe you’re a PhD who is thinking about starting up your own business.

Perhaps you already have, and you’re feeling panicked about what to do now that the economy is slumping.

Some PhDs are in the middle of a job search right now, looking to work for a startup or want to land a management role.

phd smiling

If you are a PhD who wants to take on some kind of leadership role, our current global crisis might look intimidating…

But leadership is not some magical trait that some people are born with.

Most leaders developed their skills with patience, humanity, and insights from research.

If you can rise as a leader during a time of crisis, your leadership skills will prepare you for most industry settings.

3 Ways PhDs Can Develop Leadership Skills During The Current Crisis

CEOs and entrepreneurs can’t falter at the first sign of trouble.

They have to be adaptive and persevere.

There will be hardships – there will be setbacks too.

That’s how life is for committed industry leaders, even for those who are just managing small teams.

That’s why now is a perfect time to discover what makes you a good leader.

Learning to thrive as a leader in the midst of current events will test your resolve, and reveal how ready you are for leadership.

If you can learn to lead now, you can be confident about your skills no matter the circumstances.

PhDs can see these challenges as experiments they can conduct.

Trial and error, problem solving, and future-focused innovation are the marks of a great leader. 

Failure is a part of the process, and when you fail, you have to try again.

Follow these principles of good leadership  – these are always good practices, but they become more important when there is a crisis at hand.

1. Take the healthy approach to control.

Almost without exception, good leaders have an internal locus of control (LOC).

Research indicates that if you feel in charge of your life, you will have easier access to the confidence a leader needs.

A belief in the opposite can damage your leadership potential – if you think that your life is mostly controlled by random events and other people, you will struggle to maintain the drive that pushes good leaders forward.

With an external locus of control, you will find yourself asking, 

Why bother? I can’t guarantee the results I want, so I shouldn’t even try.

Who will be inspired by a leader like that?

No one.

PhDs must draw their sense of control from the same thing that pushed them to get their advanced degree.

You were strong enough to push through academia to get your PhD, and you can approach industry in a similar way.

During a crisis, you must develop your internal locus of control – without an internal LOC, you will crumble under the weight of external factors like economic slumps and quarantines.

confident phd leader sitting

As a leader, if you find yourself seeking too much control and micromanaging other people or procedures during a crisis, this suggests you are looking to external things for a sense of control.

Accept that external events are not always under your control, and focus on the things you can do something about.

Hand off tasks to the people you are managing, and allow them to do their jobs.

2. Guide your organization toward the right future.

Some people actually enjoy leading in a crisis. 

They get a sense of pleasure or comfort from managing tasks and other daily activities.

But in a crisis, a leader cannot focus on the immediate too heavily.

It’s easy to slip into this pattern – in a crisis, everything seems urgent.

It might ease your discomfort to manage things that can get you results right now.

Daily activities like social media views or content production can occupy the forefront of your mind, but there’s something more important…

During a crisis, leaders have to think about the future.

What will happen in the next month?

What about next year?

Delegate some of the immediate tasks to your workers, and trust them to do good work.

Again, PhD leaders need to avoid micromanaging during a crisis.

According to research published in MIT Sloan, if your workers expect you to micromanage them, they may actually avoid telling you about important issues that need your attention.

They are not running an operation, so they may be more concerned about their own day-to-day responsibilities.

Your job as a leader is to guide your organization, not to fixate on the smaller details.

3. Draw answers from your team.

You probably don’t have the answer to every problem that arises.

Some leaders can be harsh with themselves about this – they might become angry that they don’t have a solution on hand right away.

phd leading meeting

But good leaders don’t simply solve problems with a wave of their hand.

And it’s okay not to have all the answers – that’s what your team is there for.

A good leader should use their team as a resource, taking suggestions and advice from the people they are managing.

It is the leader’s job to coordinate these suggestions into a future-focused plan of action, and then assign the right work to the right team members.

An added benefit to using your team for advice is that they will feel valuable for contributing.

They will develop a sense of community and a positive feeling about their place in it.

It wouldn’t be a crisis if it could be easily solved – that means now is an excellent time to practice coordinating a team and drawing solutions from its members.

By using multiple perspectives, you can better understand how to approach solutions and move forward.

So adapt to the current situation and apply these leadership skills to every interaction in your professional life (where possible). Take the healthy approach to control, guide your organization toward the right future, and draw answers from your team. With practice, your leadership skills will grow, and you can find yourself thriving in ways an academic never thought possible.

To learn more about being a leader in industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Sarah Smith, PhD
Sarah Smith, PhD

Sarah Smith, PhD, holds a degree in Biochemistry. A tireless science consultant at large, her rigorous pursuit of pristine labwork is unflinching. Yet Sarah’s keenest passion--guiding emergent academics into the business world--stems from personal experience with the transitional struggles she would have no PhD face alone.

Similar Articles

5 Ways Academic Career Centers Fail PhDs

5 Ways Academic Career Centers Fail PhDs

By: Amanda Johnson

If anyone should have known how to execute a PhD job search, it was me. The institution I was earning my PhD at was one of the top 10 across the nation. It was awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) in the award’s first funding cycle. My career center was one of the best. What made it one of the top ranking career centers was that they provided opportunities and resources to help trainees prepare for a diverse range of careers. I had taken courses on intellectual property, college teaching, and participated in training…

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Contributing Author: Maxwell Caughron A year before I got hired, I didn’t even know the career I currently worked in existed. My path to industry success has not been a straight line, so let’s start from the beginning… My PhD is in Asia Pacific Studies, and after about 6 years in academia, I needed a change of pace. I can’t put into words how anxious I was about finding a job but I started looking at various career tracks. I had absolutely no idea what valuable skills I had or where to look for relevant positions.  It was then that…

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

How many PhDs miss their calling as being a leader and or a boss because of academic failure and not realizing the leadership skills they have?  I remember my own academic education well. Like other PhDs, no one taught me how to develop my leadership skills. Leadership is a core part of real life, of industry. But it’s not a focal point for academia, which is why so many students get their PhDs only to face a harsh reality… Instead of success and recognition, PhDs feel used. They’ve been used by a university system that chewed them up and spit…

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

By: Shobeir Mazinani, PhD

Becoming a data scientist has changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration. Since becoming a data scientist, recruiters have invited me to apply for positions in their own organization. It wasn’t always like this though… It used to be the academic life for me – lengthy hours, little pay, and even less appreciation. But I made a decision to join Cheeky Scientist and take my career into my own hands. Now, it’s normal to receive multiple job offers, which I negotiate for higher salary and improved signing bonuses. Does this sound like a luxury? Like a distant achievement that you…

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I’ve lost a job. I was offered a contract, and they pulled it back. Everybody is ignoring me on LinkedIn now.  I was communicating with somebody about an upcoming interview, and now they’re not replying to my emails. My postdoc is not going to be renewed.  This is the kind of message I’ve been getting from countless PhDs all over the world. The recession has made things challenging for everyone. A lot of PhDs thought academia was going to take care of them, but they’ve found out the hard way that it isn’t true. For weeks now, I’ve been warning…

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

By: Elliott Brecht, PhD

You should have seen my academic CV. I would have set off anyone’s anxiety. It was a total disaster. By academia’s standards, it was fine. But I had a real monster of a CV, over 5 pages long and full of academic jargon. And there was no cover letter either. Can you guess what industry employers did after taking a glimpse at my CV? They probably threw it away – that’s assuming it even reached employers. More likely, it was filtered out of candidacy by application tracking software. You might think that, given the current situation, you should be focusing…

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Isaiah Hankel has your career guide to navigating the world of PhD jobs during the coronavirus crisis and using this temporary downtime to your advantage. The financial markets have crashed worldwide.  I can tell you from experience what’s going to happen next. I was a PhD student in 2008 during the financial crisis, and history tells us the hiring market is next to crash. After 2008, I felt like there were no jobs, and I had no industry network to connect with. My PI couldn’t help me – he didn’t know anybody either.  He was in the academic bubble with…

5 Visa Processes International PhDs Master To Lock Down A Job

5 Visa Processes International PhDs Master To Lock Down A Job

By: Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Visa Processes for PhDs can be complicated – luckily, contributing author Arunundoy Sur, PhD, can break it down for you. I started applying for jobs early. I was preparing to graduate, and I felt lucky to receive some positive responses right away. In a very short period of time, I had interviews lined up with 4 different companies. I went through multiple rounds of interviews and even reached the stage of salary negotiation in 3 of these cases. It all seemed to be going well. Being proactive was paying off, and now I had a new job lined up before…

Coronavirus Panic Proves The World Needs PhDs In These 9 Industry Roles

Coronavirus Panic Proves The World Needs PhDs In These 9 Industry Roles

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Isaiah Hankel, PhD, discusses the global reaction to the coronavirus and how it demonstrates that industry needs PhDs more than ever. The need for scientists is rising, and it’s rising fast. With the recent outbreak of the “coronavirus,” media have reported all kinds of information, not all of it true and accurate. News and other media outlets thrive on timely reportage, and unfortunately, panicked viewers will pay more attention than relaxed ones. The effects of this panic are already observable. Who is in the best possible position to work against this alarmist racket?  Scientists holed up in academia? No. In…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.