Crisis Does Not Build Character

7 Steps to Navigate Through COVID-19 & Beyond

Tom Fuller, Managing Director and Global Consumer Sector Leader, shares insights on how to lead in times of crisis.

There are a lot of uncertainties in the world right now. But one thing is certain, talent & leadership have never been more important. The human connection has never been more relevant. Now, more than ever, leaders are challenged to navigate through uncharted waters. There’s no “playbook” for leadership when the stakes are this high, certainly not for leading your company in the face of this global COVID-19 pandemic.

When trying to discern the reality of what life, and our businesses, will look like post-COVID-19, it is quite clear the consequences of our decisions will play out over the rest of 2020 and far beyond. Right now, what every company needs is clear-headed, intelligent, values-driven, and purposeful leadership. Never truer words have been said than this quote from James Lane Allen, "Adversity (or crisis) does not build character, it reveals it."

As a firm focused on assessing leaders, and their ability to successfully and positively impact our client organizations, here are a few suggestions in these trying times for leaders responsible for a team, an organization, or a company:

  1. Stay informed: Break away from the melodrama of network and cable news and focus on actual information and data gathering from WHO and the CDC as well as your frontline team, customers, suppliers and even your competitors. Make calls to people that can provide perspective and real-time insight that would otherwise be absent in the daily reel from the news feeds. Meanwhile ZRG Partners has been tracking the many ways organizations are responding to the coronavirus crisis on our Good To KNOW page.
  2. Prioritize: Focus on what’s important, your people. Even leaders of the most aggressive, sales-driven organizations can, and should, begin every internal messaging, whether written or in a town-hall or a small meeting, by underscoring what is most important – that your people, and their families, are safe, physically, and psychologically.
  3. Build a Plan: A number of my CEO clients have stressed the importance of thinking long-term (i.e., post-crisis) laying out detailed plans and incorporating several contingencies along the way, while remaining extremely focused on executing your day-to-day game plan. Think strategically, conduct scenario planning and be flexible to adapt quickly, while realizing that most decisions are not going to be binary in this environment.
  4. Rely on your internal and external teams: There is no need for you to be the “Superhero”. While you might be the smartest person in the room, multiple smart people together are still smarter than you…build upon collective wisdom to seek the best path forward. Work together to discern what is truly critical versus what is merely important.
  5. Over-communicate: Build credibility by being realistic but optimistic. Style is important here, so be thoughtful on how you approach the myriad of topics you need to address. Be plain and direct with your messaging and be sure to repeat the key themes. Lastly, be as “visible” as possible, with the right cadence so your teams always feel “in-the-know”, cared for, and a part of plan.
  6. Be authentic: Stay true to yourself and realize that you don’t need to turn into General Patton to lead your team through this crisis. While it may be time to sharpen your leadership and communication skills, people long for the familiar when they feel under attack, threatened and in times of crisis. Don’t hide difficult news, be honest, and if you don’t have the answer, be transparent and say “I don’t know”, while promising to get the answer and report back to the team.
  7. Take care of yourself: I’ve seen some leaders think if they just work 20 hours a day all will be fine. It won’t, and neither will you be fine. Take time for exercise, a quiet walk in the early mornings, and to eat right. And remember, your friends and family need your attention as much as your employees and customers do.

This crisis will be the defining moment of our generation. While it has been a long-standing view that companies, and therefore their leaders, exist to deliver profit to their shareholders, now more than ever, companies must balance the needs of all stakeholders—including customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities. Be the leader about whom those stakeholders agree, that your company was led with integrity, purpose, and focus on the human impact during the worst crisis in the past 100 years.

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