Some say that what you do in times of stress and duress, says tons about what you value and stand for as an enterprise. That's why I am always amazed and often disappointed when I see companies cut training and development budgets during difficult business conditions (or even worse, in good economic times, when its not deemed a necessity nor a "competitive advantage", only to scramble like crazy to invest in people when the "war for talent" inevitably returns!).
These are indeed, trying, unprecedented, and unpredictable times. Who knows how long this pandemic will last, and what the "new normal" will look like, let alone when it will arrive.
What we do know, is that what people see / perceive of your actions as company leaders, is formed during times like these - what people remember (etched in their memories) and attribute to your values and company culture are your actions, inactions, and perceived integrity in walking your talk in these times and days. Its what people will talk about going forward as stories about you and your company culture.
Values and culture result from what leaders do, in good, bad, and regular times. What stands out, and has outsized influence on those perceptions and memories, are the behaviors you do now during the Coronavirus pandemic. Doing the right long term things for both the business and the people will serve both well.
Empathy, compassion, honesty, vulnerability all speak to caring about people as well as your humanity. Let these speak loudly and consistently in today's times.
Reading the different approaches that states, counties, and countries are taking to the Coronavirus epidemic, makes me think about the fundamental differences in circumstance, history, culture, values, and behavioral norms from place to place (among a multitude of other variables!)
Central to these differences is the difference in attitude and history of individual responsibility and governmental and / or community responsibility. It's not surprising that totalitarian regimes can dictate rules for the masses and that the masses follow, or that countries with a history / emphasis on individual responsibility are more reluctant to dictate country-wide solutions or measures, such as shelter-at-home or social distancing.
The universal answer of course, is we need some measure of both individual responsibility and community controls are required, with accompanying accountability and / or enforcement.
Also universal is the tendency to judge by one's own standards, history, and experience. This is what gets us in arguments and trouble with one another. If we assume the other's logic and assumptions, we would probably conclude the same decisions and judgments (and be in agreement!).
What compounds the situation is when: 1) we have a dictator in a democratic society, 2) who doesn't dictate or decide when necessary, or 3) frequently changes his mind, 4) refuses to accept the facts and makes up his own, and 5) is without either principle or clear vision.
We gotta get out of this place, if its the last thing we ever do (so they sang about a different time and place)!
After thirty years of training and coaching leaders and managers (primarily in industry), I am still amazed and appalled at how often people reply "by learning what NOT to do" when asked how they learned how to manage and lead others at work.
And yet, bad examples abound! I read this morning about a tech unicorn, that laid off almost a third of their staff by calling them to a Zoom conference, and announcing to all those individually invited that they were being laid off in two weeks (there is controversy whether it was acutally a live person or a recording). Suspicions had been aroused by the non-normal, unique features to what had previously been typically a transparent, two-way, regular, 1-2 hour all-hands meeting.
When times call for straight talk, empathy, compassion, a sense of getting through it together, coming out stronger on the other side, making things win-win, staying the course and focused, caring for others, etc. etc. Yes, leaders need to make tough decisions. Yes, business leaders need to steward the business for the long haul. And, yes, leaders need to walk their talk in bad times as well as good times (compare this bad example with Arne Sorenson's all-hands meeting at Marriott regarding Covid-19).
As Peter, Paul, and Mary lamented, "When will they ever learn. . .". Look for good examples, exemplars of your values and principles, see how they apply them in good and bad times, and how they build two-way trusting relationships through authenticity and example. Keep them in your leadership diary for reference and referral. Practice them with your team, ask for feedback, fine tune, repeat, and lock-and-load for now. Keep (watching and) learning!
In these times of uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos, we need leadership more than ever - clear, consistent, fact and principle-based leadership. Leadership that takes responsibility and intiative, that is both humble and firm, that leverages the resources, ideas, and strengths of others, that is decisive, yet flexible in steering a clear course. Leaders that give people confidence and optimism in their problem solving, their decisions and their wisdom. Leaders who can listen and learn, and educate others in building a common picture of the issues, dilemnas, and critical and difficult choices that need to be made. Most important, leaders need followers to be effective leaders.
When leaders don't lead, followers don't follow. When leaders vascillate, followers get confused. When leaders don't or won't decide, people are left to their own devices (okay when we are truly independent entities, not when we are truly interdependent, need to collaborate / share, and can learn from each other to create solutions to novel or fast changing circumstances). Unfortunately, we are seeing the results of both leaders leading, and leaders not leading, and its costing time, creating uncertainty and a loss of confidence, and hope (not to mention lives) in those instances where leaders are not leading. The contrasting actions and inactions, and their consequences couldn't be more stark. "Getting out of the way" is a good first step for leaders not leading, but it alone is not enough. Those who step up need reinforcement for stepping up, and need the authority, resources, and appreciation for doing so. Unfortunately, these too are lacking with leaders who don't lead.
Leadership has always been about making tough decisions that affect lives and livelihoods, about communicating choices and how they align with overall goals and principles, and about marking progress and celebrating successes and contributions along the way, while staying the course. Leadership has also always been about our behavioral example, the HOW of addressing issues, solving probles, engaging and learning from others, marshalling necessary resources to achieve the overarching purpose and good.
Leaders, let's play our parts in these turbulent and troubling times, so that followers can follow, and we can succeed together and come out stronger and be our best selves.
We are often told to make lemonade when we are given lemons by life circumstance. Yet better than lemonade, might be KoolAid - meaning making something uplifting, inspiring, motivating, and yes, even fun, playful, youthful, creative and new. Hence the title: from Lemons to Lemonade to KoolAid.
When things are tough, unpredictable, chaotic, and scary, BE A LEADER. Be real and authentic, admit your fears, worries, and concerns WHILE staying true to who you are, living by your consistent values, maintaing focus on your collective mission and shared values, taking the high ground, looking for heroes and not villains, seeking the common ground with empathy and compassion, and controlling and influencing what you can.
Beyond that, make KoolAid - look for novel, wacky, crazy, yet inspiring solutions and everyday treats by finding and sharing what is working, telling positive stories that people can connect with , sharing lessons from history and around the universe that give and inspire hope, experimentation, optimism. BE HUMBLE, BE HUMAN, BE AUTHENTIC, BE COMPASSIONATE AND GIVING of yourself to others.