The Exponential Power of Leadership in Crisis
Strong companies will survive and even thrive beyond the current coronavirus. But, in the midst of this crisis, now is the time to define the context in all you do, communicate and over-communicate inside-out, and prepare to play even more urgent offense in your strategy and execution.
Today, the coronavirus crisis is the context of all leadership, strategy, and communications. We and every company we work with are in crisis mode, coronavirus crisis mode, political crisis mode, economic crisis mode. And the coronavirus pandemic will sprout more and larger crises spreading across companies, markets, businesses, and people. In terms of health, business, and leadership, these are uniquely difficult times.
We go back to my 2016 book The Leadership Campaign and its penultimate Chapter 9 on the exponential power of leadership in crisis: Plan ahead to transform crisis into yet another campaign opportunity—it’s where you win or lose. . . .
This is a critical window for companies to raise their game. In these times, the “shadow of the leader” will never be more important for all the people who work for you. I recall vividly how ten years later our client at American Express Ken Chenault’s leadership—literally at the epicenter of 9/11—was still talked about and defined the company and its success for a decade and beyond.
A key danger is getting bogged down on process, bureaucracy, and “working in the business vs. working on the business.” Instead, in these times of crisis, remember bold leadership becomes exponentially powerful. So does strategy. Strategy sets the trajectory for your company for the next decade and beyond. Here are key elements to focus on as you lead your way through and beyond this crisis:
First, all must now be put in the context of the coronavirus crisis. Over the next weeks, one thing is certain: This crisis will ask more of you as a leader, as a company, and as a nation. So, this is how you should begin every speech, message, and communication. And every principle of The Leadership Campaign becomes triply important now. As a company, if you fail to put forward a strong, true, and caring voice, your competitors will happily do so. This is the time to define yourselves as leaders, define your company, define the stakes for change, and define the future of your industry.
Second, inside-out communications become all-critical. Now is the time to over-communicate—to open and sustain a dialogue with employees, partners, clients, and constituents. Now is the time to prepare to tie future strategic priorities to your own leadership backstories—the values that drive and further define you as a leader . . . particularly in the context of your company’s emerging strategy beyond this crisis.
Third, now is the time to prepare to play more urgent offense. Research continuously evidences companies that play more offense and are bolder leaders in times of crisis are dramatically rewarded in value, reputation, and credibility. Ask Warren Buffet. Invest now! This is the time individually as a leader and collectively as a leadership body.
In all crises, the key is to control the dialogue. From the beginning—where most crises metastasize. In doing this, truth is the best propaganda. And remember the old saying: “We will all tell the truth . . . eventually.” Better always to tell the truth faster and on our own terms.
So, as companies lead across and beyond this crisis, remember:
Be proactive. Define “success.” Anticipate always.
In so doing you further activate your leadership values by:
- Mapping the battlefield and scenario planning
- Being strategic—because the power of strategic thinking is exponentially increased in times of crisis.
- Defining and consistently evidencing your own leadership values.
- Simplifying your messaging. And communicating inside-out . . . early and often.
- Centralizing. Building a virtual “War Room.”
- And, most importantly, preparing for and communicating towards the post-crisis period—because this crisis will in many ways define your company going forward.