Original and useful leadership guidance is tough to produce at the best of times. Unfortunately, we are clearly not in the best of times and there can be no playbook for being a Covid-19 leader.
It is impossible to speak with complete authority in this unprecedented environment about how best to run a business, department or team. To say otherwise is ‘for the birds’. That said, without meaning to sound like David Attenborough, it is to the birds that I have turned. Well ducks, swans and magpies to be exact.
Get Ducks in a row. Keep Finance leads close.
It always makes sense for you to have as accurate an appreciation of your resources as you can. You need to know the state of your ducks before you can get them in a row. Keep your accountant or finance lead as close as ‘social distancing’ measures allow. All decisions, but especially the difficult ones, need to be informed. Cashflow is king but hopefully you have a range of regular metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that allow you to draw conclusions based on facts. Being able to refer to these facts when communicating to staff or customers will give them confidence that leadership has at least done its homework.
Where your staff, customers, suppliers and investors are concerned, you need to communicate, communicate and communicate some more. Personally, I believe in being frank and courteous always. Fingers crossed your business is having a ‘toilet roll producer-like’ Covid-19 experience, however for most of the service sector-based British economy, this has been a nightmare.
Channel your inner Swan
It is vital that messages during this period are delivered calmly and without alarmism. Regardless of how fast your heart is beating or legs are flapping, as a leader you must channel your inner swan.
You do not have an obligation to have all the answers, but you do have to ensure you never panic publicly. Bad news is bad news. It may be impossible to avoid giving difficult messages – however transparency and candour can often make a bitter pill slightly easier to swallow. Although one size does not fit all, treating people like adults, keeping them informed whenever sensible to do so and sharing your workings will be appreciated. I believe this approach will ultimately earn you additional respect nine times out of 10.
The importance of relationships has rarely been more crucial. I am an optimist and believe it is likely that many professional relationships will be strengthened by the time we come out the other side. Diamonds after all are created under the most intense of pressure.
Re-define success and celebrate it
My bird references end with a pair of magpies. We have had plenty of sorrow and, as the rhyme goes, it is ‘two for joy’. Leaders need to decide what success looks like in times of crisis, so that all wins can be celebrated. This lockdown has proven we can spread joy via Zoom, Teams or Facetime with family and friends, so do try to do so with colleagues.
My grandad always said it was “better to be lucky than good”. I agree and wish us all luck. In our Covid-19 world, I find solace in the words of golf’s nine-time major winner Gary Player. He famously said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get”. Take care, I am off to earn a bit more good fortune.