Steven's Blog

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Little has Changed

Don’t get mired in the tactical. The principles of what makes for effective leadership of a business is no different now during the pandemic from what they were in the “before-times.” It is only the tactics that have to change.

At a recent business event in Tokyo, an expert panelist claimed that a leader might be good in normal times but not good in leading through crisis, and conversely a good crisis leader might not be good in normal times. In my view, a good leader by definition ought to be capable of leading through both crisis and stable times, and that should not be as hard as it sounds.

So what does it take to be successful during COVID-19 crisis? I have observed four behaviors in common among leaders whose companies that have emerged successfully.

  1. They insisted sales staff reach out proactively to customers and ask how they can help.
  2. They kept the business moving forward aggressively, rather than reflexively halting expenditure, hunkering down and waiting for the situation to improve or at least become clear.
  3. They innovated aggressively and at a rapid rate, and encouraged staff to do the same. They launched new products and services, approached new channels, and tried new methods. They kept what worked, discarded what did not, and then innovated some more.
  4. Communicated frequently, openly, and candidly with staff. They were transparent about risks, challenges, what they knew, and what they did not know, what seems to work and what has not. They were consistently sanguine, neither alarmist nor spinning optimism.

Some might view these crisis tactics but consider these again. Aren’t these the same kinds of behaviors that serve a business well even in the best of times? I view them as principles that do not change depending on circumstances.

This is not to say that a business cannot be successful by letting some of these principles slide, and many successful business have. It is just that they could have been more successful.

Crises however stress all systems. What might have worked well enough before the crisis is often unviable during it. Recently I have been engaged in a survey of independent dealers of a European company’s products. The best performing among them before the COVID crisis maintained the best performance during it. The performance of those good enough before, though not outstanding, dropped precipitously. The difference between the top performers and the others came down to the behaviors I described above. Whether before the crisis or during it, the top performers had changed little.

Similarly, I have observed that most of the leaders I know who have led their companies successfully though the pandemic had already been adhering to the same principles of leadership in the before times. The changes made during the pandemic are merely tactical—how to reach out to customers, what bold moves to take, where to focus innovation, and how best to maintain communication with staff as patterns of working have shifted more heavily to remote means.

Tactical changes are not hard as long as a business is disciplined about principles.

Tactical changes are not hard as long as a business is disciplined about principles. Click To Tweet

Does this mean that if your business had not been adhering to these principles before that all is lost? Hardly.

Any business can change as long as a leader does things right, and any leader has the capacity to learn and improve as long as he or she so desires. In the end, if you lead a business, it is all up to you. So what do you desire?


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