Leadership Qualities are Tested and Proven in Times of Uncertainty
So much has been written and said about the current COVID-19 and the level of uncertainty, panic, isolation, and fear this has wrought throughout the world. Our “new reality” has confounded leaders in the medical, research, business, and political world. While this circumstance may seem more fitting for a Stephen King novel, or an episode of "The Twilight Zone," this sudden change brings challenges never seen before.
What is a leader to do? We know how this is affecting us individually, but what about those around us? A good place to start is by giving consideration to our stakeholders. Stakeholders are identified as those who would feel a profound sense of loss if the enterprise went away. For most organizations, that includes employees, customers, suppliers, investors and the broader community (including government entities to whom we pay taxes). Relative to your company, each stakeholder group is trying to make sense of the current operating environment. Taking them one at a time, we have an opportunity to communicate leadership, innovation, and creativity.
Where to start? Well, your customers are wondering what the immediate future holds for their own organization. As a key partner, now may be an ideal time to reach out and offer reassurance to your best customers. To the extent you can, make them aware of the availability of the products and services you can continue to provide. Service interruptions are understandable and will come as no surprise. Nevertheless, hearing from their trusted partner about their capabilities and their limitations will go a long way in building the kind of appreciation and customer loyalty that will pay big dividends.
Your employees are obviously concerned about their own positions and their paychecks. Now is the time for honest, frequent and, yes, even hopeful communication. The best way to demonstrate your care and to show empathy for your team members is to avoid remaining silent. They are looking to you for your honest assessment of where the business is, where it may be heading in the days and weeks to come and the action steps being taken in the near term to ensure the continuation of the enterprise. And remember, you don’t protect people from the truth, you protect them with the truth. This is also a good time to seek input from your employees. You just may be surprised and encouraged to learn of their ideas and their willingness to help.
Suppliers are our channel partners. Reach out to them to assess how this crisis is affecting their organization, their people and their ability to continue servicing your account. Let them know how much you appreciate the reliability and the quality of their products and their people. And be prepared to listen. Remember they’re facing the same angst and uncertainty that you are.
Your investors are also concerned and confused. Now is the time to be in touch and share your plans for the near term, particularly as it relates to your financial plan and the current state of your company’s liquidity. This may also be an excellent time for a conversation with your primary lender. Ensuring a solid banking relationship is always a sound business strategy.
Finally, your company’s role in the broader community may present an opportunity. No matter how much we are challenged by the current circumstance, there are those in need of compassion and outreach. Thinking of ways to help others is often an ideal way to bring needed perspective to our own problems and obstacles.
Leaders are needed (maybe even made) during times of uncertainty and stress. Your ability to reach out to your key stakeholders now, will likely be met with appreciation, which will be remembered long after the current crisis passes.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.