“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It’s to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Peter Drucker

5 Essential Leadership Responses to the Crisis

This is not the first time businesses have faced a shock. But this is a massive one and very sudden. Take Marriott International, a 92 year old company that has seen the Great Depression, World War 2 and many other huge shocks. President and CEO Arne Sorenson explained to Marriott Associates: “In terms of our business, Covid-19 is like nothing we have ever seen before. Covid-19 is having a more severe and sudden financial impact on our business than 9/11 and the 2009 financial crisis combined.”

For leaders, this shock will reveal some important things about your business:

Your financial management – Were you already without reserves and struggling with financial liquidity? Unfortunately, for some airlines, retailers, this may be the coup de grace.

Your business model – Is it adapted to the digital world? Covid-19 will drive your digital transformation even if you won’t. As Remo Gettini, CTO of Depop says: “Covid-19 will prove that Businesses who aggressively digitally transformed have now the best chances of survival. Digital is going to be businesses’ vaccine.”

Your team and culture – Are your people engaged and ready to adapt? Now you need that good will, is it there for you? You cannot build it overnight.

Our political, social and economic systems are responding in multiple ways all over the world. Governments and international institutions are resetting the stage on which we act.

So what does all this mean for leaders of businesses? From my experience as both a leader and as a leadership coach, leaders are having to adapt very quickly to the new world. From the virtual coaching I have been doing over the last few weeks, across multiple industries and countries, here are some of my emerging conclusions about what leaders need to do:

  1. Buy yourself time. Crises push people to make fast decisions, and indeed, speed may be more important than precision on some issues, for example to preserve cash. Even so, take a breath and take a view from the balcony to get some perspective. On many issues it will be better to involve more people not less and to think things through with both short term and longer term considerations in mind.
  2. Set priorities as a team. What are the three to five most important ones? Early in the crisis, those are likely to include employee safety/care, cashflow, customer relationship management and operational continuity. As the crisis evolves, ‘defensive’ strategies need to be supplemented by ‘attack’ strategies to develop new digital offerings or secure new business. What drove results yesterday may be irrelevant today so be ready to adapt quickly. The leadership team need to track progress on the priorities, learn and adjust on a frequent cadence. And don’t just decide what to do, decide what not to do.
  3. Create a ‘safe space’. A culture in which it is safe to share concerns, to be vulnerable, to ask for help. As a leader you need to be authentic and trusted. This is an emotional time and it really is ok to be human first and foremost. That starts with you.
  4. Hold to your purpose & values. If you are purpose-led you will find a way to fulfil your purpose in the new world, so keep your purpose centre stage. How are we going to work in what will emerge as a very different world? And if your values are your true values they will guide you now – ours (generous, clear-sighted, true partner) are informing everything we do now more than ever.
  5. Stay connected to all your stakeholders. Your team first; daily pulse checks and regular team check-ins. Your clients; how is this affecting them and what can you do to support them, even if it does not pay the bills in the first instance? Your business partners. Take care of all of them as best you can. Be honest, empathetic and kind.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It’s to act with yesterday’s logic.” Peter Drucker

A final thought. If you have the leadership instinct to take care of others remember that first you have to take care of yourself. To make big decisions, under time pressure, that have widespread and lasting ramifications, is stressful. When they impact on the people that work for you and that you care about it will have an emotional price. Then there is the inherent uncertainty of this situation. Others will say we have no idea how things will unfold; you don’t have that luxury, you need to anticipate how things might unfold. All the while working from home and surrounded by your family, who may not be well. This will have a profound impact on you. So take the time to take care of your mind and body as well as your business.

Simon Court, CEO of Value Partnership