There’s an old saying that “any dead fish can swim downstream, but only a live fish can swim upstream”. In many ways leadership is truly tested when trying to swim upstream – against the current, amidst the choppy waters and all the headwinds.
Times such as this are a true test of leadership. We are in the middle of one of the worst pandemics the modern world has ever experienced, and the many social, political and economic issues are threatening every person and business. 100+ year old companies, tech start-ups and everything in between have already gone out of business or are barely hanging on.
So, how do we provide inspired leadership in the midst of crisis? While entire books have and will be written on the subject, here are just a few thoughts that I find most helpful to start the conversation.
- Crisis Reveals Character The leader needs to be trusted by their team members to make wise decisions, demonstrate confidence and calm under pressure, and protect their interests – to “have their backs”. The character of the leader will either inspire confidence or be revealed as a reason for the team to not trust in the future. Whatever the leader has or has not invested in loving, caring for and inspiring the team, will yield the expected results: good and bad.
- Never Waste a Crisis The leader must create and inspire the new directions and reinventing of the company that is required in times of tremendous uncertainty and upheaval of business models. Often a crisis will melt away normal resistance to change and pave the way for rapid innovations. It has been said that there are two reasons for significant change: inspiration and desperation. While inspiration is much preferred, desperation within a crisis tends to remove resistance and speed up the rate of adoption of change.
- Building on a Firm Foundation Leaders who have built their companies on a solid mission and vision, model the company’s core values and build a great culture have “built their house on solid rock” and will withstand any crisis. Their team members will be loyal and steadfast and will not be paralyzed by the fear and anxiety of constant change and uncertainty that cripple ordinary companies.
In my 40+ years as a business executive, almost 16 of them as Chief Operating Officer of Online Trading Academy, I have been through many crises that have tested my leadership abilities and refined me. The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily shuttered over 40 of our education centers around the world which normally host multiple classes and events each week. Fortunately, one pillar of strength we have invested heavily in is our world class virtual community of online classes, resources and events that we have been able to pivot to with greater velocity and urgency.
Of all, our greatest asset in leading amidst this crisis has been the trusted relationships we have developed with our team members and students over many years. This is a direct result of the leadership team continuously investing themselves in our culture, forming bonds of trust and love, and inspiring a passionate commitment to our mission, vision and values. The people we serve need this kind of leadership!
In my experience, there is no greater fulfillment in a leader’s career than leading their team through a crisis and achieving new levels of success and significance as a result. The swim upstream is invigorating and will build endurance and stamina for the next crisis – which is sure to come!