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.

Unless you’re Superman, you can’t be good at everything.

The recent “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” movie has me thinking about superheroes — and how weakness isn’t necessarily a bad trait when it comes to teams.

One of the best things about the Avengers series (both the Marvel Comics and the films) is that it reminds us that even Superheroes need a team. Each member of the group has his or her strengths – a specific area in which they are “super.” But like all of us, they have vulnerabilities – and that’s when they can invariably count on the team to watch their back.

Superman blog Image

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in business, the most successful leaders seek out people who are NOT like themselves. People who make them uncomfortable. People who are better, smarter and stronger than they are in specific areas.

Leaders surround themselves with a diverse team of strong performers who, when teamed with others, perform as unsurmountable Superheroes.

In fact, if we continue to borrow Hollywood metaphors, think about how many films use this premise. In the “Dirty Dozen,” it’s a bunch of army misfits who become the crack team to infiltrate the enemy stronghold. Sure, they’re hard to manage. But they have the unique skills.

In “Cool Runnings,” it’s a Jamaican bobsled team. Not your typical Olympic contenders, but they come through. You can probably name ten more without thinking too hard. The point is, none of us is perfect, nor should we expect to be.

The proven approach is to assemble a team of motivated people with diverse skills and perspectives. Include some non-conformists who are committed to the common good and you’ll be surprised by what happens. Unless you’re Superman, it’s the best way to beat the bad guys… or simply stay in front of the competition.