Finance Leadership Self awareness Team effectiveness

How to lead with your business on the line

Is good leadership different during a crisis? What do our people expect from us when the future is uncertain? There are four areas of focus leaders need to keep in mind.

Most of us have not seen anything like the impact the Coronavirus is having on the business we work at, or we may own. Not knowing whether what we’ve built up over so many years will survive, we need to come up with the right behaviors and actions to weather the storm and not drown.

I’ve been in a few crises during my career. I spent a significant amount of time transforming a company preventing it from going under. I’ve learned many lessons preparing for potential hurricanes and managing through powerful snowstorms while working in retail operations in the United States.

Those situations did not even come close to what’s happening at this very moment in many businesses. But there are similarities between what I experienced then and what’s happening now. The tactics may differ during times of crisis, the fundamentals of good leadership don’t change. They just get more exposed when your business is in the line. Both good and bad leadership are easy to recognize when all eyes are focused on the leader.

Here are four areas of focus leaders need to keep in mind (you should do the same):

1. Self. How you deal with yourself and others in this time of crisis is extremely important. Not only what you do matters. Who you are to yourself and others matters even more. People, often afraid of what may happen to them, are looking to you for direction. Therefore, they need you to be calm and positive, they need you to demonstrate trust and care, and they need you to provide clarity and direction. You will need to model to them what they will need to model to others, whether colleagues or relatives. To do so, you need to make sure you find the right balance between leading others and finding time for yourself to stay sane.

2. People. People come first. Now more than ever. They need to see you as a person with empathy for them first. They need you to listen before you talk first. They need to feel you understand how dire the situation is for them. Show them that you care. Then they need you to demonstrate your vision on how to get out of this situation. They want you to be radically transparent with them. Tell them exactly what’s going and what it means for them. Tell them what you need from them. Be clear on the sacrifices you’re asking them to make, explaining why and for how long. Show them you’re willing to invest money to keep them safe. This is your time to show your values and demonstrate the right behaviors.

3. Cash. It’s remarkable how few leaders know precisely when they run out of cash. In crises like this, that’s the very first thing you need to figure out. You need to know precisely when it’s game over and then work your way backward. It sounds harsh, but that’s the way it is. Once you know your cash zero date, you can start identifying internal measures (other revenue streams, cost cuts) and external measures (loans; grants; governmental support). Make sure you do some honest scenario analyses and prepare for the best, worst, and most likely scenario. Finally, if you believe in the quote by Winston Churchill to “never let a good crisis go to waste,” you need to spend time identifying new opportunities as well. Most new ideas emerge from disruption when our backs are against the wall.

4. Rhythm. I’m a firm believer in rhythm and rituals as a crucial factor to success. Especially in times of crisis, you need to establish a rhythm that helps you and your people. Create a daily routine that’s clear to everyone, and that keeps an eye on the ball. In these extraordinary circumstances, I would even suggest a check-in twice a day. One in the morning to set the plan for the day. One at the end of the day to discuss the execution of the plan and look forward to the day of tomorrow. Yes, that sounds intense, and it is. When your cash zero date comes closes, things are intense. Let people know that you don’t do all this because you don’t trust them. You do it to ensure no time is wasted, and things keep moving. And while doing all this, make sure you keep yourself and your people in mind. Ask people first how they feel before you ask them to do something. Express gratitude frequently. And while optimistic, don’t be afraid to talk about your fears also. You’re also human.

Bonus Tip: Turn off the news.

QUESTION: In which area do you struggle the most? What solutions have you thought of? What prevents you from executing on those solutions?

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