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Courting Success in the Midst of Disruption

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” 
– Warren Bennis

Navigating new norms post-COVID-19 comes with complexities and many moving parts that we must address. As leaders, we are tasked with the responsibility of grasping our present reality to give context to our vision, so our people can wrap their minds around where they stand. Author and businessman Max DePree said that “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.” As we move forward into uncharted territory, we’re not alone; history supplies us with numerous examples of organizations that successfully navigated The Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the recession of the 1970s, Black Monday 1987, WTC 9/11/2001, the economic downturn of 2008. In each economic disruption, companies pressed the reset button weathered the storm, adjusted their vision, and wrote their new success stories. In his book “Straight from the Gut,” Jack Welch describes the winners of the future. “They would be companies that “search out and participate in the real growth industries and insist upon being number one or number two in every business they are in—the number one or number two leanest, lowest-cost, worldwide producers of quality goods and services. . . . The managements and companies in the eighties that don’t do this, that hang on to losers for whatever reason—tradition, sentiment, their own management weaknesses—won’t be around in 1990.”(1) Welch was chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, during that time companies had to navigate The Market crash of October 19,1987, known as Black Monday. The market plunged more than 20% in one day. Wallace Witkowski writes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same — except computers are faster. While the crash did not usher in another Great Depression, it did introduce investors to a new era of stock-market volatility.”(2) Jack Welch, like many other leaders, accepted nothing less than excellence, stayed the course, was still productive, and profitable in the 1990’s. Welch mentions six rules for successful leadership:

  1. Control your destiny, or someone else will.

  2. Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it were.

  3. Be candid with everyone.

  4. Don’t manage, lead.

  5. Change before you have to.

  6. If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete. (3)

Change is Here to Stay

“Close scrutiny will show that most’ crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance or stay where you are.”

- Maxwell Maltz

All business plans tend to have life cycles, especially in seasons of change. Navigating our way to a new normal requires being comfortable with the necessity for change. Statistics show that most people are okay with changes within their organizations, push backs occur when many of those same people are required to change with it.

The ability to communicate how fluctuating conditions can open doors for real opportunities within the context of the organization’s vision helps personnel to wrap their minds around their current reality.

Connecting with our people on a personal level helps to alleviate feelings of anxiety and restore confidence so they can maintain their focus on the tasks at hand. Maya Angelou has said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make your people feel confident.

Develop simple action plans for each initiative for greater clarity

“Problems are not stop signs; they are guidelines.”
– Robert H. Schuller

Utilizing simple action plans, outlining specific projects, budgets, team member names, their responsibilities, and targeted completion dates, keeps everyone on the same page minimizing misunderstandings. Initiatives come with higher probabilities of success when our people know what they’re facing and where they stand. Michelle Dean remarks, ”Crisis forces commonality of purpose on one another.” 

Think Through Possible Risks and Obstacles

Having contingency plans in place is always wise in seasons of change. Thinking through and preparing for possible obstacles increases team confidence in the likelihood of implementing contingency plans. Setbacks are to be expected, though well thought out action plans tend to minimize them.

Measure, Monitor, and Evaluate

Having the appropriate metrics in place for monitoring performance and measuring results and evaluating initiative effectiveness keeps projects on track and our vision moving forward. Progress is a confidence builder, holding regular meetings to chart that progress and make adjustments when necessary builds momentum. The greatest lesson our people can learn from successfully navigating post-COVID-19 is that vision is not a fantasy it’s a reality to be seized upon intentionally.

“A crisis does not produce leaders; it simply draws attention to their presence.”

(1) Straight from the Gut by JackWelch (2) 10 Lessons from the Market Crash of 1987 by Wallace Witkowski (3) Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch


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