Successful leadership in today’s fast-moving, global environment will require cultivating creative, flexible and resilient thinkers who can effectively lead through the current crisis while simultaneously positioning their organization to survive the next one.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold and its long-term ramifications remain unclear, conducting postmortems and defining lessons learned can seem premature. At the same time, one important lesson is all too clear: COVID-19 took the world by surprise and the next crisis, however it unfolds, will likely be just as surprising.
In other words, while predicting the next crisis with certainty may be impossible, the corporate world must assume that disruption—whatever its form—is inevitable.
As David Shore, an instructor at Harvard Extension School and Professional Development Programs noted in his article in the Journal of Health Communication, “the day to plan for a crisis is not the day of the crisis.”
Here are a few critical skills strong and resilient leaders need to survive — and thrive — in the event of a future disruption.
To make critical decisions in a crisis, leaders need access to accurate, up-to-date information. And perhaps more importantly, this information must be updated and revised as often as possible to ensure that it is relevant and current, as the crisis evolves quickly and constantly.
Therefore, successful leaders must actively cultivate sources of information throughout their organization before a crisis hits. These sources must be experienced and trusted and represent a wide range of organizational perspectives.
Ideally, the intel you collect through this process will incorporate multiple viewpoints, translate into actionable data and avoid — as much as possible — rumor and misinformation.
A hallmark of the COVID-19 crisis has been the need to operate with some degree of normalcy in times of extreme volatility and unusual levels of uncertainty. Employees are concerned about job security but also about the personal safety and health of their family and loved ones.
Functioning successfully under these conditions becomes significantly easier if the leader clearly defines its core values and mission and builds trust with employees.
Communicating Clearly and Effectively
To be successful through a crisis requires clear, honest and effective communication. From employees to customers, all stakeholders must understand how the organization plans to navigate the crisis.
Of course, not all decisions can or should be made public but transparency and honesty, as much as possible, will help go a long way during times of disruption.
A necessary part of clear and effective communication includes acknowledging both unknowns and missteps. Taking ownership of mistakes will further establish feelings of trust and confidence, which are critical to success.
Acting DecisivelyNimble leadership, a hallmark of a resilient leader prepared to successfully weather a disruption, requires decisive and rapid decision-making. The best leaders quickly process available information, rapidly determine what matters most and make decisions with conviction.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that companies currently weathering the crisis most successfully had either identified crisis management teams in advance or were able to build such teams almost overnight.
Evaluating What Works (And What Doesn’t)Postmortems are an essential element of strategic planning. Closely examining what didn’t work in the last crisis can significantly help leaders in the next crisis.
Instead, resilient leaders must engage in frequent re-assessments throughout a crisis, taking a hard look at what steps are working and which ones aren’t. The goal is to readjust a short-term strategy as the current crisis moves from one phase to the next.
Conduct Scenario PlanningCreative thinking will be required by any leader looking to survive — and thrive — during the next disruption, whatever it might look like.
Leaders should not be content to simply apply lessons learned from the COVID-19 to the next pandemic. After all, if we are sure of anything, it will be that the next disruption will look entirely different.
Yet while we may not be able to predict what the next disruption will look like, it is possible to be prepared as a leader for that crisis however it unfolds. Position yourself for success by being prepared.
In the comment section below, let us know how you plan, as a leader, to be ready for the next crisis.