26.03.2020

Coronavirus – Leadership Priorities if There is a Crisis

By Martin Haworth
Martin Haworth

Several years ago, I was leading a training session for some corporate mobile communications network employees. As we returned from lunch, two participants came up to me – apologising profusely – to tell me that they couldn’t stay for the afternoon session as half of their vast Middle Eastern city’s network was down and they were the only two who could fix it.

Fast forward a few years and another group on day two of a four-day program in Brazil, were faced with an unprecedented hacking of all of their corporate IT. Nothing internal (literally at all) was working and within the transportation sector, they could not use normal communications networks in any way to interact with their customers or indeed, their own systems.

In both situations, these highly capable people chose the options that worked best for them in very demanding, business-critical situations. They chose to work entirely on the more important elements of their business, leaving everything else that was not critical to one side.

When we’re faced with extraordinary challenges, like we could be soon with a health epidemic and our numbers are way down, what do we do? Great leaders batten down the hatches and only do what they have to at that moment. They focus on what is important and urgent and really stop doing the discretionary things. They widen the scope of the valuable resource of the people they have, and they maintain function. They focus on the heartbeat of their business and not the cosmetics.

When crises hit, leaders have the responsibility to be creative and have a deep appreciation of what truly is important, especially in the short-term. Parking what really does not need doing for a while, even though it might have high strategic and developmental value before the storm hit.

Strong leaders need to have the capacity to enable their people to step outside the rules they normally work within to become creative, out-of-the-box problem-solvers where the only rules are fixing the biggest problems to enable survival.

There will be time to catch up on the non-critical work – important as it is – later, once the storm has passed, safe in the knowledge that the relationship between leader and team members is all the stronger; the individual all the more stretched and challenged and confident and overall, the organisation has not only survived the challenges, but a new, resourceful workforce has evolved successfully.

Here are some thoughts when the going gets really tough:

  • What can you stop doing? (no, REALLY, what can you stop doing, if just for a while?)
  • What must you do more of?
  • Who needs to be especially empowered?
  • What support can and must the leader give, whilst also being able to turn their hand to the sharp-end stuff too?
  • What rules can be suspended?

Out of a crisis, some good things can come.