For business leaders, the current Covid situation has accelerated unprecedented change. More than ever, the health of businesses is urgently and visibly linked with the health of workforces, the health of our society, and the health of our planet. Previously unimaginable shifts in our daily lives are compelling companies to adapt quickly and identify creative, unconventional ways to operate and survive.
While the world is managing to survive and adopting the “new normal”, the second wave of COVID-19 is surging that possibly creates the next waves of layoff and furlough. Worldwide economic uncertainty makes it more difficult for leaders to find their footing and those who like to operate from a place of clarity are finding few ports in this global storm.
How do we move forward in such uniquely uncertain circumstances, then? Positive, effective leadership helps us navigate crises, rebuild communities, and forge ahead in moments of ambiguity. But with so many challenges colliding at once, many leaders might be struggling to chart a clear way forward.
To gain that foothold and respond effectively, Liz Hilton Segel advised leaders to act on three imperatives: clarifying the purpose, supporting the stakeholders, and bolstering emotional and organisational resilience.
The temptation for businesses in moments of crisis is often to get small, to hunker down and zero in on bottom-line fundamentals and metrics. Now, instead of narrowing their focus, leaders in a crisis should consider pulling back and reminding themselves of their guiding principles. Emphasizing purpose will also signal our intentions to the wider world, instilling confidence and goodwill among stakeholders who share principles. In times of change, workers, consumers, and investors alike will gravitate toward organisations whose purpose reflects their personal values and beliefs.
Everyone is vulnerable to mental health and low self-esteem during difficult times. Everyone might need someone to rely on in order to survive the pandemic and keep food on the table for their family. Therefore, leaders should ask themselves what actions they can take to protect and support those who rely on them and the organisation, especially those who might be particularly vulnerable or whose needs are becoming increasingly acute. That means taking stock of who the stakeholders are from customers and investors to employees, communities, and society as a whole. It means identifying what they need and recognizing that these needs might differ in each case. And it means determining how leaders can serve them most effectively, from short-term decisions like how to continue operations at a time of physical distancing, to long-term considerations such as whether to prioritize employees’ current wages or equity for retirement. It might also include potentially redesigning supply chains to support local employment while also strengthening the resiliency of operations. The stakeholders are the people who drive and measure a business success, and particularly when success feels elusive, recommitting to them can galvanize the trust, confidence, and morale required to forge ahead.
Even with a strong purpose and a plan to serve an extended community, leader’s progress might not be immediately apparent. You will need to marshal resolve in order to stay the course and to handle the kind of attention that comes from doing so. To make that adjustment, identify and access the actions and behaviours that make you a more thoughtful and capable leader whether that involves making time for activities that restore energy, pursuing the space needed to gain perspective, or simply ensuring that you are getting the sleep you need. In short, find balance.
When faced with an overwhelming volume of critical decisions, leaders might feel the urge to limit authority and tighten control. But organisational resilience depends on more stakeholders and perspectives, organized across a network of cross functional teams with clear mandates. Empowering leaders with the right temperament and character those who stay curious and flexible and are willing to make the tough, even unpopular calls is vital for thoughtful and swift decision making.
Every step involves choices that are tough to make even in good times, let alone in uncertain ones, but the same instincts and actions that will see us through this current global crisis will also make us stronger as we face longer-term challenges. The ability to understand who we are and what we value, recognize our responsibilities and our opportunities, and chart a course based on our most fundamental goals while supporting our own emotional resilience and that of our organisation. These are skills that will fortify leaders in the years and decades ahead.
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