Leading in the Time of COVID-19

Leading is about guiding people into the future despite its risks and uncertainties.”  

Linda Ginzel, Booth School of Business. 

There’s a lot we don’t control about COVID-19.  What we can control is how we lead. We can face the challenge of COVID-19 (and climate change etc.) or ramp up our delusions that we don’t need to deal with these issues. 

We are 100 percent responsible to lead during this time of uncertainty. Potentially big challenges are headed our way (e.g., illnesses in our families and/or teams, work and supply chain disruption, travel restrictions, economic impacts etc.).  

I’ll be delighted if we don’t find ourselves in big turbulence.

Whatever unfolds, we need to lead outcomes vs. problem react.  

In this now moment, I am not writing from a place of fear. Last week was a different story. I was worrying about vulnerable people, and what COVID-19 might mean for our local economy and my business. Last week, I admit I got extra groceries and was urging my family, friends, colleagues and clients to do the same.  

A challenge like COVID-19 serves us a big opportunity to learn about ourselves and our leadership. We can shrink in fear or we can raise our game. While you’d likely prefer it to be different, in times like this we can actually grow trust with our teams, with other companies (even our competitors!) and our customers. It’s all in how we lead.  

Leading Through COVID-19 is an excellent article released this week in the Sloan Review (MIT). The summary points below come directly from the article as they are so well expressed: 

  • We can shape how the story unfolds: While an initial crisis may not have been preventable, the secondary crisis of a bungled response is avoidable… We are still early enough in the story of COVID-19 that executives and organizations can shape the role they will play.” 
  • We have the capacity to adapt: “Crises evolve over time, especially long-duration events such as an infectious disease outbreak. Organizations and their leaders must execute a series of pivots as the facts on the ground and their operational context shift. Often, they require parts of the organization that do not normally work together to come together seamlessly.” 
  • We can be resilient…even aspirational:  “While many play defense during a crisis, there is an opportunity to be aspirational as well. Imagine that the adversity of the situation coalesces your team to rise to its absolute best.” 
  • We can grow trust:  “The question for leaders to ask is, ‘How can we be fully trustworthy to each of our stakeholders during this difficult period?’ Trust is built through dialogue and actions, not proclamations and intentions; involve those affected in defining in tangible terms what trust means in these circumstances.” 

This HBR Article is more comprehensive and an advisable read, especially for larger businesses. 

Today I write from a place of possibility. What if Island leaders and leaders everywhere meet this challenge with preparedness + agility, strong communications, and humanness?  We have an opportunity to be both decisive and flexible in the face of rapidly changing information. We have an opportunity to get curious about what our stakeholders really need and then to respond accordingly. 

Are you willing to take your 100 percent responsibility re: COVID-19?  

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Lead strong. 

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