This economy may kill your career

With current economic forecasts mixed, the outlook for careers is becoming more difficult to assess. In this blog, John M. McKee says leadership is the key to ensure that we don't follow in Japan's footsteps.

 Sure, it's been a rough year, but don't you feel great about many of the recent news reports?

Lately, we're hearing that many of America's largest and most prominent companies are getting back on track. Consider the stories coming out over just the last few weeks:

-- In the manufacturing sector, General Motors and Ford are both posting near-record quarterly profits.

-- In the banking industry, many companies are again recording larger, stronger financial balance sheets.

-- The tech sector, led by Apple & Google, has many companies now worth more than at any other time in the past.

-- And retailers, always an indicator of market health, in segments ranging from Kohls to Nordstrom are posting great gains year over year.

So, are you more optimistic about the future now? Probably not. Because you know better.

Is the U.S .on the verge of a lost decade? Or worse?

  • Will America cease to be the largest economy in the world -- and if so, how soon?
  • How will that affect most career paths?
  • Will U.S. grads continue to find it tough to get good jobs? Will they be able to pay their college loans?

For noodling purposes, consider Japan, which until last month, was the world's number 2 economy:

If you are Japanese and between 25 and 34, you're considered to be a member of the "lost generation."

Despite being, on the whole, well educated and ready to compete in a global market, this group found that it couldn't get employment in their chosen fields. As a result of an economy that had crashed in 1992 after leading the world for years, this group of 3.3 million often ended up drifting in low-level jobs and unemployment.

It was great until then. After the Japanese economy crashed, people knew it was going to be tough for a while. Most financiers and government officials presumed that people would get back to meaningful jobs when the economy heated up again. But around 2004, when business returned, employers went for younger, newly minted grads.

Companies defended their action with the argument that, after years of limited experience, members of the lost generation had developed habits that did not make them as suitable as new grads for moving ahead in an organization.

Consequently, this group suffers from higher rates of mental illness and anxiety. Looking ahead, the bank Credit Suisse forecasted that the group will continue costing the country very high costs compared to other generations. Expectations are that ultimately these individuals will saddle the taxpayers with an additional $US67 billion when they retire.

What about the U.S.? Will employment heat up here soon? Is the world's largest economy about to experience its own lost generation?

Economists are split on these questions, but actions speak louder than words. Small businesses, usually the engine of employment growth, continue to be reluctant to hire because the outlook is too tenuous. The big employers are continuing to seek less expensive workers abroad. GM has actually not hired many laid-off workers back.

The country seems split about what to do next. More government intervention or less? Should we increase the national debt now for a healthy tomorrow or is that simply mortgaging our future?

It's time for everyone in a position of influence, in all organizations, of all sizes to start acting like leaders:

1. The most-effective leaders make decisions. Then they push those decisions through -- even when there are many roadblocks. They can take companies and organizations on the verge of death (like Apple, which seemed doomed in the early 90s, or McDonald's, which was declining quickly despite earlier leadership changes) and fix them. 2. Great leaders show us why we must do what's needed. They don't accept a lot of push back from the other side. In any organization -- including ones as big as Disney, HP, or Target -- the leader does whatever is needed to get the whole team moving in the same direction. It may not be popular, but they don't worry about it. 3. Infighting kills even the best ideas. Multiple factions, each with different agendas caused the first commercially successful direct broadcast satellite TV service, PrimeStar, to founder. That made it ripe for DIRECTV, with a single focus, to take it out. When I moved in from DIRECTV to manage Primestar I was amazed at how great their people and technology were. With stronger leadership, it would have won the battle. 4. Old models will ultimately tank even the #1. Blockbuster Video is planning for bankruptcy. Over the past decade they flipped leaders, but none ever significantly changed an approach created way back in 1985. They failed to recognize that all organizations have a natural lifespan that can exist only so long without dramatic modification.

It's time to step in and step up.

Here's to the future!


Leadership Coach

By John McKee

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...