Leading Against Existential Threats (updated 11/21/21)
Never mind the standard business threats, here comes an existential threat and you need to adapt as a leader.
An existential threat poses permanent large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone. We’ll see what the final statistics say about Covid-19 contagiousness, infection rates and mortality compared to other historical viruses but you can be sure the global and national response to Covid-19 will set a new standard for perceived social responsibility versus personal rights, business continuity and global economic impact.
Given the events surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, you now get to tackle lockdowns, quarantines, limited services, diminishing support, fear, uncertainty in the supply chain, concerned employees, non-Covid-19 illnesses that make everyone else nervous, returning employees being quarantines, lousy news services, useless politicians, non-specific governing declarations, and new tax and legal policies that give you no integration plan and leave you with more questions than solutions. You didn’t create this game but you do have to play it.
Yes, we are all in this together and it is completely clear that Europe has more balconies than the rest of the world. I appreciate the cute memes, sharing of inspiring quotes and comical videos from my network. I even enjoy how some companies are trying to take advantage of current market conditions for gain even though some of them are below the line. However, there is a different level of leadership and activity necessary for navigating the current times and I would expect to see more of it. I would consider it the difference between peacetime and wartime leadership.
The peacetime leader sets big, hairy, audacious goals and tries to grow the business through the entrepreneurial spirit and empowerment of the team. The wartime leader is too busy fighting the enemy and needs to be in the field leading. The wartime leader is tenacious, committed, responsive, agile, and ultimately accessible to the stakeholders in their efforts.
Let’s look at some historical figures for some reference; Churchill had courage, imagination, experience, perseverance, the ability to communicate with people and ultimately inspire them. Reagan had a great capability for adapting to changing realities. He understood growth. He had a sharp eye for danger and recognized the leader’s duty to prepare and protect. He also had a profound respect for the dignity, rights, and responsibilities of the individual. Lincoln had extraordinary empathy and the ability to put himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling and to understand their motives and desires. This gave him influence on friends and foes alike. Military experts list agility, responsiveness, accessibility, adaptability, flexibility, mental and physical resilience, competence, and most importantly character as qualities of a leader. Character is often demonstrated in how closely our actions, decisions and relationships adhere to ethics and values.
There are, of course, many more examples but these will work to make the point and define what leadership should look like during the Covid-19 pandemic response. Are we seeing any of this? I would argue we are not, at least not the way traditional news sources are reporting. In fact, those that have tried to speak to objectivity and reason have been targeted and demonized and cancelled.
What matters right now is how you are leading your team and if they are responding. The business still has to function and produce value to the stakeholders which includes employees. Think about how you would be described in the history books when dealing with the next existential threat. Are you living up to your team’s expectations and needs now?
Here is what I see working for the peers that I respect; Honesty, clarity, transparency and consistency in communication with stakeholders. Specificity, commitment, delegation and accountability to driving the mission of the organization. And resilience, responsiveness, accessibility and empathy with employees.
This is an interesting time in business. People are looking to you for guidance and don’t forget, your family still needs you as well.
President Reagan, while addressing the United Nations in 1987, stated that he wished of an alien invasion in the hopes that it would unite people. But would it really given what we have seen? I do not think it would happen after the response to this crisis. Donald Rumsfeld stated it best: “Governments are good at two things, nothing and freaking out”. I do not think the government has let us down the past 20 months.
What should have been treated as a health emergency was treated as an economic emergency and has now created further economic and societal disasters of inflation, shrinkflation, labor shortages, supply chain constraints, 50% increases in fuel, unnecessary mandates, polarization of values, and a feeling of insecurity in the globe. Nice work! Try actual science next time instead of political science.
There has not been nor will there ever be a unifying objective and pragmatic voice that leads the world so my advice is to take care of those directly around you, continue to surround yourself with people that value freedom and rights, and do the best you can to navigate the policies and individuals that try remove those.
The plus side, I have found, is that there are still people that value work and want to add value to the world. I’m trying to find more of them and will help support the ones I already have found. By the way, none of them are elected or appointed by those elected in either party. It will be up to the private sector as usual to fix the messes caused by policies and perceptions.