I broke the rules. I’m guilty. I attended a funeral. I hugged the widow who was married for 42 years, and I shook the hand of a son that lost his dad. I hugged a grandson that plays baseball with my son. He just lost his grandfather who he lived with until his death. I know I broke social distancing rules but I couldn’t help it. I guess I stink at this new reality. My need to show love overwhelmed my fear of this virus.
I can see clearly now the rain is gone. These immortal words by the great Jimmy Cliff resonate with me and the hundreds of supervisors I have shared this powerful insight about leadership. The truth is, most supervisors still believe in and adopt the approach for control rather than influence. It is not their fault. We have been using the same model for management since the early 1900s. This carrot and the stick methodology is management 1.0. What if there is a better way? What if there is an easier way? What if there is a more powerful way to get desired behaviors from your teams? Enter choice architecture.
We are now in a race after two months of lockdown. What does a competitive advantage look like? Those who know “get it” and those who don’t, well this writing is for you. The pandemic has disrupted the economy and companies are racing back to the front of the field. Think of a major accident in a stock car race. We have been under the caution flag for over two months. This is a tremendous opportunity to reset the competitive field in any business sector. This is a chance to win the race. The harder your business has been hit, the bigger the opportunity.
Once thriving businesses are now scattered across the country in the ash of this pandemic. We don’t hear the story of the cinema operator in rural East Texas or the travel agent in Montana. The tour guide operator in Arkansas will never make the national news. There are burnt corpses of business that most people will never hear or read about. You are real none the same. You are legitimate. You matter. The entrepreneurial gamble is taken by so many people who risk everything you own on the chance of free enterprise. In the book, E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber calls it the entrepreneurial seizure. After coronavirus, how do you recover? How do you rise from the ashes?
The challenge facing many businesses is unprecedented. We are likely to have a wholesale shift in demand for long-time institutions of the past and the present. Some businesses, as we know them, are going to evaporate. This virus is killing businesses with as much vigor as it has people. Tragically, some businesses have been infected and do not realize it. The question for many business leaders, as we start to reopen the economy is, should I rebuild the business or do I reboot. Should I rebuild as it was, presuming demand will return or reboot to something else?
The coronavirus is an additional challenge impacting demand for energy. We don’t know when demand will increase or how fast. We do know, however that it will increase at some point. What goes down must come up. People are not going to abandon planes, trains, and automobiles. People need plastics. People need chemicals.
We are defined by difficult moments in life. Our response to adversity is the pivot point in life. We can pivot to bitterness, or we can pivot to betterment. It is our choice. Like many others, I watched my eighteen-year business lose ninety-five percent of its revenue in less than a month. I felt helpless to make a difference. I felt trapped by frustration. I was pissed off. I was sad.
Most epidemiologists believe the covid-19 virus is not going away soon. In fact, some believe this virus will be with us long-term, like influenza. We must go back to work at some point in the near future. We need to pick our date to re-invade the public. This invasion will involve risk. We will suffer casualties. We cannot be held hostage by this invisible enemy long-term.
As Americans, we are suffering emotionally. We are feeling this pandemic and the complex emotions that accompany the loss of normal. We cannot go to our favorite eatery. We cannot travel. We cannot escape reality at a movie theater. We cannot get a simple haircut. We know we are suffering, but we may not know exactly why. To make matters worse, we are suffering financially without a solution to the problem. We feel helpless.
This ongoing crisis is defining you in the minds of your people. Your leadership (in their eyes) is being formed like cement and will be hardened in their minds once this is over. Crisis defines leadership or the lack there of. In the immortal words of the poet Maya Angelou, people may not remember what you said, people may not remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
We are all experiencing stages of grief. We are grieving our sense of normalcy and our perception of control. Many people are grieving our businesses as we knew them. We will recover and things will be normal again. Listen to a teacher from China discuss regaining normalcy.
You are defined by your response to adversity. Your team is watching and taking mental queues from your action. You are under the microscope right now. Every leadership book you have read, every class you have taken, every failure you have learned from prepared you for this moment. Your people need you to lead now more than ever. It is the job. It is not a science. You must make quick decisions with imperfect information. You are the one person everyone else is looking at to make sense of this crisis.