What makes a good leader rise to the occasion during a global crisis and drive more insight and value, and better results for their team, customers and shareholders?
As legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are made; they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
We are at war, and the enemy is a virus. Being a wartime CEO is not an easy task. It requires more focus, work, planning, process and dedication. But in times of crisis, it should also be easier for you to change the way you manage your business and make the tough decisions needed to drive success. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and what I’ve observed over the years when I’ve been asked to go in as CEO to fix and grow companies.
1. Your job is not to be a politician, but a detective
As renowned leadership authority Stephen Covey describes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Especially in times of trouble, you must understand the facts. In every part of your business, you must get down to the bottom of what is working and what is not. Trust but verify. You need to uncover clear and factual information across every aspect of your business — do not stop with the first answers you receive. Dig into the details, and look at a situation from multiple perspectives. Be sure to employ the five W’s (who, what, where, when and why), and don’t forget the sixth question: How
2. Drive purpose with realistic optimism
Blind optimism makes people more nervous. Make sure people understand where you are going and why it matters — your true purpose. What is your team doing to make a difference? In today’s COVID-19-dominated environment, it is easier for our healthcare workers, today’s heroes, to understand how they are making a difference, but it may be tougher for you. For example, in my current role as CEO of Infrascale, a data protection company, our purpose is to treat our customers’ data like our own so customers can always access their data and run their applications, no matter the disaster.
Leaders under pressure must not rely solely on optimism. Optimism without a realistic perspective will bring doubt and even fear. Leaders in a crisis must be pragmatic, with a real understanding of all the facts before they try to communicate the truth about a situation. Remember the Stockdale Paradox in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great when he interviewed Vice Admiral James Stockdale and asked, “Who didn’t make it out of Vietnam?” Stockdale replied:
“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
3. Build the right plan
Once you have taken the time to drill into the details and you understand the current state of affairs in your company and market, you need to take just as much time to analyze your customers and your competition. You must remember why you are in business, what problems you are solving and why your customers need you. You must analyze your products and solutions from your customer’s perspective.
As Sun Tzu states in The Art of War, “Know yourself, know your enemy.” You also need to understand your competition and what bets they are making to beat you. Only then can you build your plan on what bets you are making and why, where you are going, what your strategy is to get there, and how you will measure your results.
4. Understand the driving factors
You need to get serious about the metrics you must track on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Especially in times of crisis, you need access to real-time data to understand the trends — leading indicators that show you not only how your business is doing, but also how your customers and the market are reacting to the overall global crisis. Most importantly, are your customers using your products more or less? You will also need to understand what is working so you can invest in what is working and stop spending on what is not working.
5. You are the leader
It’s your responsibility to work with your team, build consensus, and make and own the tough decisions. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
It is your responsibility to take ownership when the decisions you and your team made did not work. When things are working, take advantage of those moments to give credit where credit is due and to make sure your teams are celebrating every success.
No one wants to have to lead in crisis, and especially in a recession caused by a global pandemic, but since we are in this situation, you should take advantage of the opportunity to step up and be a CEO who wins the war.