Stability and predictability have become a thing of the past. Overnight, many business models have been jeopardized. Supply chains have been interrupted. A feverish quest for new approaches and opportunities has commenced – on a strategic as well as an operative level. Leaders are suddenly faced with an utterly new ballgame. Previously valid management and leadership formulas have abruptly become ineffective, sometimes even representing a burden. This article outlines how to remain successful amidst all of these challenges.
Anchor point #1: Throw your perfectionism over board
“If you need to be right before you move, you will lose. Speed trumps perfection.” This statement by Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director at the WHO and in charge of health care contingency programs, also applies to the current crisis management of leaders.
Mental agility recognizes perfection as an inhibition threshold and uses a more situational, experimental approach. Basically, this means that we constantly need to learn and adapt.
A study by Korn Ferry conducted in 2018 assessed the mental agility of German managers and found certain industry-specific differences. It seems probable that those of us who have already been working in a dynamic environment have a mental agility advantage. Everybody else, start practicing now!
One highly effective tool in this context is to reflect on the underlying causalities of the situation. Is there a clear cause-effect relationship? How easily can it be identified? The Cynefin framework may provide orientation and help to choose the appropriate approach for specific situations. Perfection may be justified under certain circumstances, but it is unsuitable for the complex or sometimes even chaotic framework conditions we are currently experiencing.
You can curb your perfectionism by asking the simple question: “Is it good enough to give it a try?” “Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management,” to quote Dr. Ryan once more.
Anchor point #2: Develop your zooming skills
A highly useful leadership skill in these uncertain times is what I call the “zooming competency”. It’s the ability to quickly zoom out and see the big picture before zooming back in and focusing on the necessary short-term measures.
Sounds easy. The trick is to properly handle the enormous amount of distractions. Especially in challenging times, we tend to be flooded with information. More emails, more (online) meetings, more news, more headlines. This increases the risk of scattering. You may find yourself jumping from one issue to the next. Don't mistake that for agility. It’s the opposite. Agility requires strategic focus, attention and meaningful prioritization. If those are lacking, you might be dealing with a case of distractibility.
Take a conscious look at the overall picture first, maintaining a future-oriented focus. With this sharpened perception, you will be able to filter out the right signals from the white noise and distinguish the important from the unimportant. These signals will provide valuable reference points for your next steps.
Once you've identified and prioritized the measures, you will need to focus on implementing them with determination and undivided attention to the task at hand. Fully concentrated, you’ll be able to unleash the necessary resources and abilities and have the required discipline for successful implementation.
Divide your leadership work into clearly defined timeboxes to ensure that the zooming principle works. Within these timeboxes or sprints, you avoid distractions. This also applies to teamwork. If we break it down to one workday, it means taking short breaks between the zooming phases and consistently eliminating interruptions. Brief mindfulness exercises may help to keep your attention and performance high.
Anchor point #3: Lead without pride and prejudice
In these turbulent times, when we’re discounting previously valid principles, past successes suddenly no longer count for much. We're in a whole new ballgame with a different set of rules. Unfortunately, our self-worth often strongly depends on past successes. As a highly decorated manager that can no longer rely on established practices and achievements, you might feel that your pride has been wounded. As a reflex, you may fall back on well-rehearsed practices. This can be a dangerous path in such times, for your company and even more so for yourself. The message is: Ego kills agility.
Try to decisively say good-bye to your ego. Dismiss it and consciously shut the door behind it. This may sound strange, but it’s a very effective way to reprogram your leadership and eliminate the element of pride. To eradicate prejudices established throughout your career, ask yourself: How can we support our customers now? Don’t think about your personal fame and influence. Focus on the success of your business and, even more importantly, on the success of your customers.
The rewards will follow later and, most likely, indirectly. This does not mean that you should relinquish your self-confidence. Utilize your strengths in this crisis. Ask your environment as well as yourself to define your strengths. Use this self- confidence and the trust in your team to assume well-calculated risks and take advantage of the momentum of change to foster innovation. This will pave the way for successful leadership out of this crisis.
Want more inspiration? Use the following effective strategies to cut through the Fog of uncertainty.
Check out these practical tips by the Harvard Business Review on how to build Resilience and mindfulness in the face of a crisis. Keep calm and carry on leading!