Leaders are forged in a time of crises
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Leaders are forged in a time of crises

The current crises call leaders to act with empathy and to guide its people and businesses through these uncertain times. The importance of establishing a structured, agile approach to prevent organizations from falling behind has been the focus of most business blogs over the past few years.  In the face of the covid-19 it has never been more relevant, as this pandemic rewrites the rules of upheaval in present times.

It is in these very times that true leaders are needed. Real leaders are not born; their ability to help others triumph over adversity is not written into their genetic code. They are, instead, made – says Nancy Koehn renowned Harvard Business, or rather they are forged in crisis.

To successfully navigate crisis, strong leaders quickly get comfortable with this widespread ambiguity, recognizing that they do not have a crisis playbook. Instead, they commit themselves and their followers to navigating point-to-point through the turbulence, adjusting, improvising, and re-directing as the situation changes and new information emerges, developing a future strategy ‘on the fly.’

Deloitte refer to this strategy as developing a recovery playbook.

What they consider to be the first major strategic focus is to address the mindset of your team. From today to tomorrow.

The mindset shift

Deloitte insists that it is key that resilient leaders need to shift the mindset of their teams from “today” to “tomorrow,” which involves several changes that have important implications for the path to recovery.

The situation shifts from the unpredictability and frenetic activity of the early Respond period to a more settled, though still uncomfortable, sense of uncertainty (an “interim” normal). The implication: The situation invites leaders to envision the destination at the end of Recover.

Deloite call for leaders to expand the focus from a very inward and entirely appropriate one on employee safety and operational continuity to also include embracing a return to a market-facing posture. The implication: Leaders should envision the destination in terms of desired stakeholder outcomes, not internal processes.

Management goals shift from managing the crisis—keeping the organization functioning—to managing the transition back to a restored future. The implication: The Recover project management office may need a different skill set than the Respond project management office.

Planning shifts from short-term contingency planning to mid- and long-term economic and scenario planning to understand the related impacts on operations, employees, financing, and so forth. The implication: It is critical to model the alignment of financial resources to the cash required to ramp-up operations.

Deloitte emphasize that when leadership shifts its attitude from a primarily reactive mode to anticipating how to reinvent the organization. Focusing on how to seize the opportunity to energize their teams by imagining a successful future and embracing trust as the catalyst to get there.

Designing your own recovery playbook

As leaders our ability to be resilient and agile in the past may no longer be relevant. As we move towards the recovery phase we have to rethink our strategy based on economic, psychological and logistical changes as we make decisions about how we are going to emerge from this crisis

Running sprints

An agile IT project management methodology could be really effective at this time called ‘working in sprints.’ 

“I think there is something to be said about expending energy in a way that is most effective. I agree that work isn’t about running as fast as you can, but sprints, to me at least, means channeling your energy in a way that is most productive for your work and your own well-being.”  Says Tim Casasola, a consultant that helps Fortune 500 organizations, he believes that sprints help teams expend energy in a maximally effective way for a specific desired outcome.

“It’s not just about speed,” writes John Zeratsky, the best-selling author of Sprint and Make Time. “It’s also about momentum, focus, and confidence.”

In Zeratsky’s opinion, here are some reasons why it happens:

Using the sprint methodology you pull your teams from abstract to concrete thinking. Running a sprint on a particular question means breaking the work down to the smallest pieces, which in turn allows you to think about the issue in a more tangible way.

Sprints prompt teams to focus on what’s important. Starting the next sprint is all about building a shared understanding of the challenge. After everyone knows what to work on, teams become laser-focused and spend their time on the right things.

Sprints sharpen the decision-making process. Transparency at all levels is another thing sprints promote in the workplace. As teams start to participate in the decision-making process, they understand how choices are made and where key decisions are coming from.

Sprints incite faster follow-ups. Considering that teams have a fixed time frame to solve the problem, they’ll have to collaborate closely to get work done. Sprints will move everyone away from wandering in thoughts to doing things.

Whether you use the agile sprint principle or develop your own strategy to navigate your company through myriads of uncertainties—you must move from this current state toward a state of recovery and then toward success.

It is not only the South African government but governments around the world that are also struggling to handle the crisis, but we need not do it alone. Companies need to step up and play their part in the solution. Globally we are seeing a trend toward “stakeholder capitalism” – now is the time for leaders to be forged. Take you role confidently, allowing yourself to be forged into a great leader during this crises, knowing that you will make mistakes, but your followers desperately need direction and reminding why their work matters.