As the COVID-19 emergency evolves, SME
directors and owners are inspiring their teams, and charting as clear a course
out of this public health and economic crisis as they possibly can.
Although I’ve had the privilege to run complex
organisations and work with some of the world’s most-outstanding leaders for
over 35 years (including through various other crises), seeing how top CEOs and
MDs have responded these last few weeks has been the most humbling and
inspiring of all.
So, what type of leader is best at ensuring that their business not just survives, but emerges enriched? What they do matters hugely – including applying keen eyes, laser focus and calm conviction amidst the turmoil. However, who they are as a leader and as a person is more critical still. As so often before, the best decisions right now are being made by leaders who
genuine care – for your staff and their families, customers and key suppliers –
is the root of all else. During traumatic times, understanding and compassion
goes a massively long way.
see heart-felt thank-you notes from employees to CEOs for their empathy and
fairness, and for inspiring hope despite market collapse, financial loss and
family fear; to hear of customers prioritising payments to suppliers who
engaged candidly and caringly; and to observe remarkable examples of collegiate
energy and support from furloughed staff, is humbling.
It demonstrates how a mindset and culture, cultivated by forward-thinking leaders during good times, comes into its own when the chips are truly down. Best of all, the goodwill advantage once this horrendous – but temporary – period is over, is immeasurable!
2. Have a compelling sense of purpose
truly compelling, the core purpose of any business, and the values which
underpin it, are the North Star that holds its team together through thick and
thin. When championed with a passion, “Doing the Right Thing” remains the
default response – whatever the extremes of pressure.
sense of purpose has fuelled brilliant recent examples of adaptation and
impact. For instance, a life-sciences marketing company I work with in South
East England who, within two days, created a huge volunteer network of
scientists for Coronavirus testing. Another, a training company which made its
materials freely available to furloughed staff across the country. And, the
housing service firm who ceased all non-critical services early – taking a
financial hit to reduce risks to vulnerable people.
a powerful cause is lived with every pore of a leader’s being, passive staff
compliance becomes full, lasting commitment both here and now, and carrying
3.Yearn to engage – clearly, candidly, relentlessly
value of open, crystal-clear, over-communication during a crisis –
internally and externally – is immense. That requires the Chief Decision Maker
to embrace being Chief Engagement Officer.
companies that I see riding the current tsunami best (as well as already having
a powerful, caring, purpose-led culture, anda tight grip of their
finances) are communicating, communicating, communicating – with staff and
customers, suppliers,investors andtheir wider communities.
CEO/MD is visible like never before, daily, weekly and in multiple ways. They
are being transparent and focused, warm and empathetic, are collaborating
closely with fellow CEOs for mutual support and ideas, and are calling people
unexpectedly to simply understand how they are, and to show that they care.
4.Nurture a clear and creative forward vision
times inspire exceptional innovation. What I do gives a remarkable vantage
point to see this in action: how virtually every growth-minded entrepreneur,
having addressed immediate crisis implications with vigour, stopped almost
immediately to pause, reflect and think creatively.
some, that means testing radically new market or product opportunities. Others,
it’s using this time to unleash the creative energy of staff with time on their
hands and a hunger to be involved.
many, this is about crafting a “resumption-then-growth” strategy, with clear
one and two-year visions, while for most, it also involves reflecting on the
wealth of valuable learnings that are emerging about operating practices and
enablers, leadership approaches, or individual people and organisations.
A “can-do” mindset is
important. However, at times like these, a “can-think” one is, I
Leaders – like crises – come in many shapes and
forms. Hindsight, however, is a powerful teacher, and what is being seen today
reflects in graphic detail past evidence: that if you are in the business of
thriving, not just surviving,who you are being trumps what you
are doing hands down.