Leadership in Uncharted Waters – Covid-19

It is clear, we are in uncharted waters.  It is said that in times of prosperity we party, and in times of crisis we ponder. In these uncertain times of pandemic, the only thing that we can be sure of is the unpredictability of world events. The ability to provide guidance and leadership during troubled times will define the current as well as the next generation of leaders.


How Leaders Act Matters

An ancient proverb says that leaders are a lot like teabags; you don’t know what’s inside of them until you put them in hot water.  The measure of a person is not where they stand in comfort, but how they perform during a hard-core crisis like we are currently experiencing. In times of crisis, if a leader is inherently fearful, that will come out, if they are egotistical, that will come out; if they truly care about others, that will certainly be on display. During various parts of history, many poorly equipped leaders pushed the world to the brink, causing millions of deaths. These deaths were callously considered mere statistics and were just part of a global scorecard.  During this pandemic, people’s lives matter and leaders cannot lose sight of their ability to lessen the overall human impact.


Having a fearful initial reaction to a crisis is normal however, the ability to quickly move beyond that fear and potential self-centeredness is essential. True leaders fundamentally care about people and take responsibility for the collective good of both their employees and communities from the onset. A leader that is slow in comprehending the facts, quick to sling blame, self-centeredness or egotistical is extremely dangerous during times of crisis. Leaders such as these should not be followed and do not deserve the people’s future trust or support.  


Often the failure to show leadership upfront results in the need to execute in crisis management mode for an extended period-of-time. The inability to anticipate and prevent the crisis is the first place often means that crisis management is inevitable. Because this mode of operation doesn’t occur very often, many leaders are caught flat-footed and need to learn as they go. A lot of pain and destruction can occur while ad-hoc processes and systems are put in place.


Will your Organization Die, Survive or Thrive

The reason that leadership is so important (especially in in times of crisis) is that there is so much on the line. The life and death nature of this particular healthcare crisis and the potential economic ruin that results will fundamentally change people’s behavior as well as redefine many industries. While there is no way to fully insulate ourselves, our families or our companies from this healthcare and economic storm, there are principles and action plans that can help us decrease the impact, address immediate risks, stabilized our situations and plan for the future.  Will your business weather the storm? Businesses that have a fundamental desire to help the nation and the world combat this pandemic and ease the pain and suffering of people during a time of sickness and isolation have the opportunity to thrive. When resources are scarce, imagination and creativity become the fundamental driver of resourcefulness.


Determine What’s Important and Execute

During times of uncertainty, taking a “Next Best Action” approach is the best approach to stabilize the situation until an overall strategy can be formulated. The initial reaction to the crisis often defines the trajectory of the outcome. The ability to act with purpose and direction to arrest control of the situation often enables the containment of the problem, however operation in a damage control mode is often necessary for some period-of-time.


The ability to understand the situation and disseminate accurate information as quickly as possible is also critical. Demonstration of an intellectual command of the facts and confidence via a well-crafted communication strategy helps to align the organization. Leaders that do not have these skills often need to consult and collaborate with a skilled and objective third-party to create appropriate messaging.  


While disaster situations are by definition emotionally charged, the ability to gain control over personal emotions and worries is key. You cannot let personal fear cause an over-reaction that will in turn prompt others to panic and become ineffective. Acting in haste often makes the situation worst if decisions are driven only by emotional reaction and not logic.  


The ability to consult with experts and establish a core team to swarm the highest priority challenges is also critical. Also, having a central contact person to formulate an accurate assessment of the situation, advise on an appropriate action plan, and assure that the plan is executed effectively and efficiently is essential. In the case of a pro-longed crisis such as this, attention should be given to expanding resources to avoid core team burn-out. If the situation is a pro-longed crisis, it is necessary to make sure that the initial team does not become overwhelmed, overly fatigued or too narrowly focused to see the big picture.


Lastly, it should be observed that the Chinese symbol for crisis is composed of two characters. One that represents danger and the other that represents opportunity. Frequently, a crisis can provide an opportunity to become stronger or better than before. For many leaders, a crisis can be transformational and a tremendous time of growth that fundamentally changes the trajectory of their future and achievement of their destiny. A massive crisis, like the one we are experiencing, can catapult the human race forward by fueling creativity and accelerating innovation and social change. By forcing us to focus on things outside the norm, new capabilities and innovative products and services will be created for the benefit of future generations.  

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