I’m no different than most of you. I had a business plan for 2020. It was working nicely in January and February. Then WHAMMO! A veritable meteor hit the earth. COVID-19 was thrust upon us quickly, violently, changing our landscape entirely. Since then, we’ve been at “war” with this pandemic. It’s often felt like one step forward, three steps back.
Shift happened. Shift is happening. And it will continue to shift during recovery, like sand under our feet. It can be maddening. We make plans and then later we have to throw out our playbook and change it all again many times as conditions dictate. I refer to that as “shifting sand leadership,” and it requires a special breed of person.
During all of this, have you been asked to step up and be a leader, or to develop your leadership skills more fully? Maybe you are the last person standing where there used to be a team a year ago? Leadership can be situational like that. But while emergency “firefighting” is indeed important at the time, leaders need something more sustainable long-term. They aren’t really leading if all they do is react and run around putting out fires. They have to get out in front of it and pre-act, plan and then execute. Where is the playbook for that?
Here is a short course in five critical areas for your own leadership playbook, based on my experiences in many organizations of all types and sizes:
Clearly Communicate the Mission: What gets measured gets done, and what is understood gets done quicker. People want to know: What is the overall goal here? What are we expected to do? How do you want it to look when it’s finished? When does it need to be completed by? Clear, concise and constant communication saves people from running off in different directions, wasting efforts, wasting precious time and a whole lot of other unfortunate things.
Prioritize: Do first things first. Define what your “Job One” is. And remember that not everything can be “Priority No. 1” at the same time. Make lists: What is most immediately important for us and our customers? What will give us the best momentum? What is achievable, at least initially? Small victories at the start really add up. As a leader, be your team’s pathfinder. A leader who clearly defines and communicates the new priorities will find that they get accomplished quicker.
Gather Your Necessary Resources: Even the best of leaders can be hampered by a lack of resources. Think about your mission and what you will need. Start by categorizing your needs into what I call “The 3 Ps” that are found in every organization/team: people, products and procedures. It becomes easier to see what the greatest needs are in each area: People (staffing, team deployment, human resources, etc.), products (what you produce, equipment, etc.) and procedures (the way you do things, processes, policies, etc.).
Remember my earlier point about “throwing away the old playbook?” You may need totally different resources thanks to the new realities of your business during these times. Great coaches adjust to game conditions and redeploy their resources to their best advantage.
Show Confidence and Courage: You’ll need to have the mettle to make tough calls, to show confidence and conviction in your decisions (even when you have your doubts). Confidence is admirable but cockiness can be a brand-killer. Know the difference. Being courageous is about taking risks, which means that you’ll have to ask people to stretch themselves, do things differently and to challenge convictions. And while you can’t win them all, if your risk-taking is based on solid factors and you have a team that believes in you and supports your efforts, then you have greatly increased your chances for success. Remember: Leadership is not like winning a high school popularity contest. You’ll never please everyone about everything.
Be Consistent: The great writer Rudyard Kipling once wrote: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” Does it sound to you, too, like Kipling was talking about leaders? While all people are emotional, those in leadership roles are expected to be even-keeled, especially in rough times. Leaders should strive to set a calming example, especially in a whirlwind like today. While it may not be easy, people respond better to consistency around them.
Now and for the foreseeable future, things are unquestionably surreal and off-kilter, especially in this industry. It’s been a tough slog, yet signs are hinting that certain aspects of our business are beginning to re-awaken. And for you leaders out there, remember this: The brightest leaders shine in the darkest times.
We’re pretty much there right now. Are you ready to shine?