To say these are unprecedented times is the understatement of the year, if not the decade or possibly the century. It is times like these that are defining moments for leadership. This is your time!
Yet, we have never seen anything like this. The COVID-19 pandemic is posed to be the most significant crisis known and it is plunging the world into a global recession the likes of which we have never seen.
During my 25+ year career in corporate and industry affairs, and as a former director of risk management, I have spent many years dealing with crises and business continuity issues facing the air transport industry.
Whether it was the recession in the early 90’s, the Y2K problem, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and aftermath, the succession of viral infections in the last decade (SARS, Avian Flu, Swine Flu, and Zika), the disappearance of MH370 and the shoot down of MH17, as well as the more recent cyber threats and attacks, all had significant consequences for the aviation sector. However, through it all, aviation has proven to be remarkably resilient.
As the old adage goes, “This too shall pass.” Know that this is temporary.
Right now, while government efforts are on suppression – to slow down the spread of COVID-19 – business leaders need to make some critical decisions to ensure their organizations pull through to the other side.
Be aware, however, that this pandemic is likely to last upwards of 18 months (or longer.) The hope is that during this time enough group immunity is built – possibly at the cost of many more lives – and/or a vaccine is developed. There is cause for plenty more disruption and uncertainty in the months ahead.
No matter how you look at it, the ramifications are significant and can be long-lasting. This calls for leadership to step up. Below are some essential skills for leading through crisis.
How to Lead through Crisis – A Quick Guide
1. Take care of self and be self-aware
Realize you are not alone. Don’t let fear take hold of your decision-making. Do not lead through fear, lead through love and compassion. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. This is essential for building trust, both in good and bad times. Stay physically fit and mentality healthy. Stay positive, but realistic.
2. Assess your situation
Resist the temptation to react without sufficient thought. Be calm, patient, thoughtful before taking action. Recognize the implications of the crisis, assess the impact on your business, and devise a well-considered response and plan. What are the critical issues and what are your vulnerabilities? If your business has suffered a significant drop in revenue, what is the cash burn rate? How long can you keep going? Consider all options and creative ways to reduce expenses. Lay offs may not be necessary, and then only temporary, so that you will be ready for a recovery. If and when it comes to reducing payroll expense, spread the pain equitably.
3. Focus on the essentials
This is a good opportunity to determine what is core to your business and what is not. Who are your core customers and what are their essential needs? What are the products and services they value most, and how can you continue to support them? What are your core assets, capabilities and competencies that must be safeguarded during this time of crisis? Apply the 80/20 principle in your determinations – what are the essential few that have the most impact on success?
4. Communicate effectively and truthfully
Be clear, open and honest about the situation your business faces and some of the considerations and decisions that may have to be taken. Transparency is the best policy for building trust. Involve your entire team, not just your leadership team. Oftentimes, the best ideas come from unknown and unexpected places.
5. Reach out and engage
It is important that you not only step up engagement internally with staff, but also externally with customers – especially key clients – suppliers, competitors, government, and others. Solicit help and assistance when and where needed. At the same time, offer help and support where you can. There may be opportunities to collaborate, partner, and share resources. This could be the making of new, mutually beneficial, and lasting relationships once the crisis has passed.
6. Reassess, learn, and evolve
This is an excellent opportunity to build resilience through improved crisis management and business continuity planning. It is also an opportunity to do things differently. Working remotely from home and online conferencing will change the nature of work faster than previously anticipated. This has implications for the approach to management and may well be the impetus for reinventing our organizations in how they work and create value.
In summary, it is during crisis that leadership shows its true worth. Importantly, as a chief executive, you will need to communicate a message to two different audiences: your workforce and your customers. That message should demonstrate that your company has a plan to deal with the pandemic and the repercussions of an economic downturn, while at the same time positioning yourself for growth during a recovery.
It is during crisis that leadership shows its true worth
I leave you with a quote from a great man I studied when I was in high school – Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States – who, during his first inauguration address in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, stated:
“The only thing we have to fear is… fear itself”
Acknowledge any fears you may have and face them head-on by focusing on the now, and you will find that fear dissolves into the ether.