One of the CEOs we coach leads a corporation in another state with almost five hundred employees. In a video call with him this week, he began by explaining how he spent two days calculating when the company would ran out of cash. After ten minutes of explaining the process, he finally revealed the bottom line.
They had only seven weeks of cash.
As kindly as I knew how, I asked him why we were having this conversation. I knew he had an extremely capable CFO with smart people on her team who probably already did the math—in minutes. He had no answer. Not a good one anyway.
“Pull your head out of the management weeds,” I interjected. “Get back up the mountain and tell me what you see from that perspective.”
I knew enough about the company and their executives to know they will get through this, and make the difficult decisions that would be necessary. But what the company needed—and what your organization needs—is leadership. As a leader, you alone are responsible for the horizon view.
Vision is not a luxury in times of crisis—vision is your lifeline.
Leaders have this ability
This will end soon. When is “soon”? In 21st-century business-time, it’s sooner than you can imagine. The real question is: will you be ready?
100% of my executive clients have never been through a global pandemic before. Many, including me, navigated through 9/11, but this is different. And there’s no roadmap. There are no “best practices” because they’re still being written.
But do you really want a map? You have something even more valuable: leadership instincts.
When there are no rules, you can create the rules. Actually, you must create them—for you and your company. The goal is not to return to normal. “Back to normal” is a dangerous illusion because it’s not going to happen. Video killed the radio star. Digital erased Blockbuster Video. There is no rewind button. Blockbuster managed their way to a slow demise. Netflix invented the future.
When there are no rules, you get to create the rules—rules that align your values with the vision you see in the new normal .
I’m not just talking about having all the answers, or pretending you do. Leaders know to ask the right questions about the future.
Don’t Lead Alone
By definition, leaders cannot lead alone, and they must avoid the trap of isolation—especially in crisis. Put together “brain trust groups” for various departments in your company and ask these questions:
What are we learning about how we conduct business?
What are our customers teaching us?
What are we learning about what truly is essential in our business—and what could be eliminated?
Where do we want to be by the end of 2020?
What “new normals” do we see?
What can we do—right now—to take advantage of this unprecedented time to be in a better position as a new normal unfolds?
Listen and speak
Using your company values as guardrails, evaluate the ideas with your team and make the important decisions about your future. Then share them and take action together. This is a unique opportunity to put your values to the test.
Tap into your instincts. Communicate your vision—in every meeting and using every means of communication. (If it seems like you’re over-communicating the vision, you’re probably on the right track. If it feels scary to lead during a crisis, you’re probably doing it right.)
Leaders have the ability—and the responsibility—to focus on the future, listen to your team, and trust your instincts.
You can “manage the crisis” or lead your company with bold vision. Which kind of leaders and organizations will thrive in 2021 and beyond? You already know the answer.
Dr. Nathan Baxter and Dianne Baxter are co-founders of Lead Self Lead Others, an executive coaching and consulting firm in Tulsa, which they founded in 2001. www.LeadSelfLeadOthers.com