Robert Bennin’s thoughts: 3 critical questions leaders should answer in a crisis

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Today, every leader is faced with the same challenge.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best in us, as many have defied the odds to support one another in inspiring ways. Unfortunately, the crisis has also exposed some significant gaps in our societies, business models and our ability to adapt to change. Some leaders and organisations have been quicker in responding to this challenge than others. This is certainly an opportunity to show our best leadership.

In this situation, asking the right questions is more important than having off-the-rack answers. At the beginning of this crisis, I held a series webinar for executive teams whereby I helped them think through three questions that are critical to success in dealing with this global pandemic. I have decided to share these questions and the strategies in 1,000 words.  This is meant to be a quick, easy-to-read go-to-manual for all leaders who are working hard to navigate their organisations through this crisis.

Question 1: What should I do as a leader?

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it‘s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel

Leadership is hard, and this crisis has made it extremely difficult. It’s also in a crisis that effective leadership becomes more treasured and impactful. We acknowledge every leader has been thrown in at the deep-end. Nobody had a script for this. We must all learn to swim safely to the shore. And we cannot afford to make mistakes as leaders. The most important leadership behaviour you can bring to a crisis is humility. Humility to acknowledge the challenge of the moment, and to learn as quickly as we can and push our way out. Here is what you can do:

  1. Clarify how the pandemic has impacted your operations and its stakeholders

With that knowledge, accept what you cannot control and focus on what you can control. Define your key tasks and work actively on what you can influence. Develop several alternative ‘potential impact and response’ plans or scenarios. Don’t be hasty in your decision-making, but be decisive once you have some level of clarity.

  1. Control the chaos with empathy and engagement, given that we are all socially distanced

Many are anxious about the future. And many are handling the global trio of being a parent, teacher and remote worker. Lead with empathy and support all your teams and stakeholder communities as much as you can. Connect and communicate often, provide regular updates, speak positively and with clarity. You should personify the calm in the midst of the storm.

  1. Create new ways of living and working, don’t waste the crisis

Use this opportunity to initiate some positive changes. Start using various digital channels to engage clients meaningfully when it’s not possible to engage in person; support effective remote working structures; build capacity for the future. This is a real opportunity to fully implement the digital transformation agenda that has been on the back-burner for several months. Focus on what we can control. Do not try to do this alone. Lean on your team. Learn from others. You shall prevail.

Question 2: How do I maintain focus and not lose sight of the future beyond this crisis?

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change,” Peter Drucker

Given the scale of the pandemic and the anxiety, it’s very possible to dedicate 100% of your energies to dealing with the crisis at the moment. Bad move! “You cannot lead unless you are future-oriented.”

Today more than ever before, leaders are also expected to focus on the future. As a leader, you must have the discipline of living in two worlds: the now and the future. Your ability to be fully grounded in both worlds makes it possible for you to transition your team and organisation from the present challenges/realities they face to the desired future. Here is a real opportunity to ‘lead from the future’.

How do I maintain focus and not lose sight of the future beyond this crisis?

  1. Never underestimate the scale of change that will be required in a post-COVID world. Some prognoses put it that we will be in some form of social distancing scenario for 12 to 18 months before we return to normal.
  2. All crisis plans should have a future orientation. Continue to take actions that prepare the business for the future. Build the capacity of teams to engage and thrive in this new scenario.
  3. You should have a ‘future team’ that’s focused on reimagining the possible future states of your organisation, and the associated changes to systems, work structures, customer behaviour, supply chains and centres of value in the ecosystem. Stripped bare, what contribution does your organisation make to the world?
  4. On a personal level, you need to start examining the changes you need to make so you maximise your contribution and offer more value in a post-COVID world. Do not be tempted to stay in the moment. Look beyond the horizon.

Carve out time for future-thinking and action.

Question 3: How do I keep my leadership energy at optimum levels? 

“The difference between men is in energy, in the strong will, in the settled purpose and in the invincible determination,” – Vince Lombardi

How do I keep my leadership energy at optimum levels?

All leaders are being stretched at every turn. The nature of the crisis and the required social distancing protocols and lockdowns are putting enormous pressure on everyone’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Your leadership energy reservoir will be stretched in the coming months. There is every likelihood that we will live through this crisis for a prolonged period of time. You will need to take good care of yourself and stay grounded, so you can harness all your energies to deal with the challenges posed by this crisis. Here is a list of helpful tips to get you energised every day for effective leadership.

  1. Carefully select your sources of information and control what goes into your mind. Shield yourself from all the panic and fear-mongering.
  2. Re-start simple and positive energy-boosting routines –
  • Enjoy enough sleep at regular times
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and with regularity
  • Get enough exercise and movement in your day
  • Practice deep breathing, reflection and prayer
  1. Take the time to connect with your purpose as a leader. This is a good time to get to know yourself and examine the impact of your leadership. It’s time to connect you’re your highest purpose.
  2. Rejuvenate your leadership; Read and/or watch inspiring leadership stories/movies of great leaders and how they managed to withstand adversity. Examples include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, etc.
  3. Learn to increase your Agility/Adaptability Quotient (AQ) and your ability to lead change, as you will have several opportunities to start, stop, re-entry, de-commission during this crisis period.

Don’t quit. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Your team is looking up to you. Stay safe!

Do what’s right. Do what’s best.

>>>the author is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Marshall Goldsmith Certified Executive Coach, and a Strategy Consultant. He is the founder of TEMPLE Advisory, (www.thelearningtemple.com) and a Leadership Subject Matter Expert at the African Leadership University, Rwanda. He can be reached on [email protected] or + 233 505 930 325.

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