How To Turn Around a Country

Last Updated Nov 7, 2008 8:40 AM EST

Turning around a gone-off-the-rails company is an incredibly difficult challenge for even experienced leaders.

So how does the next president of the United States turn around the country, or at least the economic system that drives its prosperity?

Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, an expert on change leadership, says it's not just a matter of lubricating credit markets or installing regulatory oversight. What's required is the next US president leading a call to action and re-establishing national priorities.

On her Harvard Business Publishing blog, Kanter writes:

Leaders of turnarounds, whether in companies or nations, succeed in reversing downward spirals when they put the facts on the table, call for shared sacrifice with a clear promise of shared rewards, and go back to the basics. They make everyone feel we can solve problems together. They create a culture of inclusion guided by a noble purpose.
And as with many turnarounds, actions here include changes in culture and attitude, to mend what she says were the root cause of the economic maelstrom: greed, gorging, and gambling.
Read her full piece A Financial Turnaround Requires Culture Change.

For our readers who have done some turnaround work in the past, what are the first actions the new president should take both before being sworn into office and after?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.