In a time of crisis we all reach for those words of wisdom and experience that have echoed down through time. My intellectual giant of choice is Mike Tyson who said, somewhat aptly in my view; “everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the face.” Crude yes, but that’s what COVID feels like for most of us.
One thing that has become very apparent to us all is that, control is an illusion and our environment a lot less predictable than we like to think. Great leaders help define reality. In this case it’s the impact of COVID, on our individual team members and collective organisation.
For business leaders everything has changed, priorities, focus, and tempo. The environment we operate in is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Yet everything has remained the same. The characteristics of great leadership remain unchanged in a crisis, but the timeframes and impacts become hyper-concentrated. There is a contracting of decisions, responses and impacts. Our immediate focus, quite rightly becomes short term, yet our priorities can become clouded in a sea of conflicting stakeholders, reducing resources and extraneous noise.
These are extraordinary times, but the success principals, and great leadership characteristics remain unchanged. The only difference is the concentrated time frames in which we have to operate.
What great leadership characteristics do we need to bring to the fore in a time of crisis? What must one do to be a “crisis champion”?
• Clarify priorities.
• Communicate for alignment.
• Captivate with authenticity.
• Centre to build trust.
• Collaborate to leverage experience.
• Conserve to prioritise resources.
• Create to innovate.
• Commit to act and learn.
• Capture potential.
Those we lead will now be looking to us. Their immediate thoughts will not be for the company, but for their own situation and their families’ security. They wont hear anything else until you deal with that. "In crisis times, it's actually not more difficult to motivate your staff, because everyone gets much more focused on how they control their own economic destiny." According to LinkedIn co- founder Reid Hoffman.
The Native American’s of Dakota have a wonderful saying; “If you’re horse is dead; your best strategy is to dismount.
That makes sense to me, yet organisations often fail to react to their changing environment, defend the status quo and ultimately fail. Nokia, for example went from absolute market dominance to failure, in a few short years.
No proactive change happens without a reason. One of the primary challenges of creating and leading change is ‘finding a reason’. This is one advantage of finding ourselves in ‘such a time as this’. There is a clear and present danger, a more than compelling burning platform that demands a response. Everyone can see a need to shift, pivot and change.
Crisis creates clarity for change. It is a wonderful opportunity to action those things that were holding your organisation back, that you thought maybe too disruptive or radical to implement. Those things that were clouded in the ‘good times’ can come clearly into focus now in the midst of a crisis. Take the opportunity and never waste a good crisis. In the words of Ryan Reynolds "Any kind of crisis can be good. It wakes you up." Endeavor to act in the short term with a healthy and more sustainable mid term outlook. Not reactive but proactive, there’s a big difference.
To do that effectively we have to not operate out of fear, with it’s flight or flight reactive responses but maintain some higher thinking even when we are in survival mode. The higher parts of our brain are only activated when we relax; when you pause, consider, discuss and then act, there will be a better result
You have a need clearly defined. If you deal with the immediate concerns in an open, transparent and truthful manner, you will be ready for collaboration and action. Without action there is no change, and without transparency there is no trust. If you want to get a lot done in a hurry, and I’m sure you know you do, then take the time to get your people onboard. You used to say they are your most ‘important asset’, now is the time to prove it and get them ready for change.