Unity in Times of Crisis

When we’re separated, we need to get it together.

Remember the good old days when we used to worry about the distant future, instead of what’s going to happen tomorrow?

I’m only being a bit sarcastic. The truth is, when we are worried about the future, instead of panicking, we make a plan. But when the next few weeks are looking a bit wobbly, there’s a temptation to do anything to fix it, right away. Especially when we are feeling isolated from our colleagues and worried that no one is doing anything. That misdirected energy invites all kinds of mischief.

Here are two observations (among many) that we’ve realized during this pandemic:

First, it is more unsettling to worry about the present than it is the future. Of course, when something you can’t control starts squeezing your revenue stream, the sense of urgency can be crippling. But beyond that, I believe that it’s unsettling for most executives to worry about the present because we’re in uncharted territory.

The fact is, we usually have the here-and-now figured out, so that it’s just a matter of executing the plan. We have people to do that and they’re good. Conversely, the need to rethink current business plans and operations, when we are used to strategizing for the future, just seems wrong. And that’s the nature of a crisis, isn’t it — something that disrupts our here-and-now.

The second observation is that the importance of unifying our leadership teams increases in direct proportion to the difficulty of making it happen. Thanks to all of the live video conferencing apps available now, it’s relatively easy to invite everyone on your team to check in on a regular basis. We can even design custom Zoom backgrounds. The hard part is acting with intent to schedule regular conferences and make them mandatory.

This may feel pedestrian, but failure to communicate creates a vacuum that people will rush to fill. In the absence of unified direction and continuous recalibration, many people will invent their own narrative to fill the void. Others will get antsy and try to take action. Even those acting with the best of intentions (to say nothing of the paranoid) will busy themselves with work that may be redundant, counterproductive or completely at cross-purposes to the part of the plan someone else is working on.

In both cases, uncertainty is the enemy, and the best way to preempt that is with intentional, proactive orchestration. Make sure everyone is playing in unison, that they agree on timing, and on who is playing which part. Discuss and ensure agreement on what the final composition will be when everyone does their part.

Speaking for my own executive committee, we are absolutely confident that the future holds incredible opportunity for our industry and our company in particular. What keeps us up at night is the constant plan-revision process necessitated by today’s business uncertainty.

On some days, it can feel like trying to climb up the down escalator — it’s hard to see meaningful progress. That’s when alpha-dog leaders are tempted to just take things into their own hands.

But good intentions can have bad outcomes. That’s why we agree to make our weekly check-in call a priority. We can evaluate progress, offer encouragement or insight, and help course-correct the plan as necessary.

It’s vital as leaders that we don’t let physical separation pull our teams apart. Be intentional about finding the right cadence to keep the team connected. Keep the roles and goals clear. And be sure to orchestrate so that everyone performs at their personal best. Then, insist on unity.

A Perspective On Sacrifice

Thoughts for Memorial Day 2020

Across the United States, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day, a federal holiday set aside for honoring the men and women who gave their lives while serving in the military. I know many countries have similar remembrances that mark the sacrifice made by fallen heroes. Here, it’s often observed with small-town parades, cemetery visits to lay flowers on the graves of loved ones, and family gatherings that celebrate the beginning of summer.

This Memorial Day, many of us will still be under quarantine restrictions. Parades have been cancelled. Picnics will be limited to nuclear families. It sometimes feels as if we are actually at war, and everyone is experiencing battle fatigue. In fact, the language of war has infiltrated daily conversations and newsfeeds. We talk about combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus, declaring war on the pandemic, arming medical staff, and deploying our frontline workers. Just as in WWII, we’ve seen the conversion of manufacturing facilities to produce a new arsenal — in this case, ventilators, hand sanitizer and protective equipment. Just as in war time, we have true heroes who put their lives on the line: doctors and nurses, first responders, and other essential workers. And just as in war time, some of these people have made the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, their grieving families can’t even receive the consolation of a public memorial service.

So, this Memorial Day, I salute our veterans, of course. They have earned our eternal gratitude. But I am also thinking of everyone who has had to “soldier up,” who’s had to take a very deep breath and just keep marching forward without knowing what lies ahead. To be sure, the most pressure is on the frontline workers. Thank you to all who serve in this way. But my admiration extends beyond their huge sacrifice. It embraces parents trying to keep their children educated and entertained, neighbors keeping an eye out for each other, and the more vulnerable among us who are quietly self-quarantining and trying to flatten the curve. We are all in this battle. We are all trying to make the right choices and fight the good fight.

I am grateful to each of you.

The worst thing about yourself is the best thing about yourself

This is true for me and for most people I know. Our greatest weakness is what makes us great.

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The guy who has a hard time making decisions is really open to new ideas and encourages further discovery. The woman who has poor organizational skills and a cluttered office s is brilliant when it comes to thinking on her feet.

Me? I can walk into a room and sell ideas with passion and conviction. I love helping customers think about their business and all of the possible ways to improve and expand client services. But I can’t spend all of my time there; there’s other work to be done.

You are probably equipped with a two-edged sword much like mine. It’s great for slaying dragons, but there’s a risk of collateral damage on the back swing. We all need to be self-aware enough to know our strengths and, conversely, recognize when we are in that vulnerable spot – because the two things look a lot alike. (By the way, this is a great argument for surrounding yourself with team members with different strengths and weaknesses, so you can cover for each other. Watch for more on this in my next blog post.)

It’s important to invest time in your addressing your weakness. It takes hard work to focus on the things that don’t reinforce your self-esteem. But it’s a great habit – and it keeps your sword sharp for the next dragon that comes your way.