"The big question is: How will you and your organization be remembered after it is over? Will you squander this defining moment, or will you do something about it now?" ~Daniel Burrus
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.
As a leader, this pandemic is unprecedented. None of us have lived through something on this scale before. None of us have lead people or organizations through something like this before. We are in uncharted waters as leaders. The most important thing you can do as a leader is to prioritize activity. Some of you are mission essential and some are not. I could opine the concepts of safety first, but some people must face risks that others do not. Doctors and nurses are on the front-lines. Truck drivers and grocery store clerks must maintain the flow of products so others can remain in isolation.
We are going to experience four phases of this pandemic: Process, response, recovery and reflection.
Initially, all leaders had to process the reality of this pandemic. We asked how bad is this really going to be. Should I believe what I am hearing? Will it impact me or my business? Might this impact my family? And so on. Some people may still be in the phase. Most have moved to response.
The response phase is action. We initiated social distancing, and we closed non-essential businesses. Schools were closed. Sports are cancelled. And yes, some started hoarding toilet paper. In other words, we accepted the fact that our lives are going to change. Our country is responding, and we are at war with this invisible enemy. As a leader, our people will remember how made them feel during this response. Did we prioritize their safety? Did we prioritize their families? Did we prioritize their financial health? This is the tough love phase. We are making difficult decisions with imperfect information. This is the phase when words matter most. Words define your culture. Choosing the right words now makes all the difference for the people we lead.
Our next phase is going to be recovery. We will get back to some form of normal but it will be different. Some businesses will be reopened. Unfortunately, some businesses will not survive. This virus will take some people as well as some businesses. Leadership is essential during recovery. It will be a time for strength and optimism. It will be a time for vulnerability and understanding. It is the time for visibility and confidence. People will be looking for leaders to paint the new picture of normal.
The final phase will be reflection. Unfortunately, this phase will incur the most losses for leaders. Our people will reflect upon our actions in the first three phases. Our title as leader will be most at risk when people reflect upon our words and deeds during this pandemic. They will think about how we made them feel. They will think about our messaging. They will reflect upon the difficult decisions we made. This is the silent phase for most; however it will be the most important for leaders or pseudo leaders. It is judgement time and some will be found guilty; guilty of missed opportunities, guilty of the wrong priorities, and guilty of a lack of messaging.
As a leader, you are being filmed with the lens of history. No matter what you do or choose not to do, you are being recorded. You are being recorded in the minds of those around you. You are writing the script as you go. They are filming your activity. They cannot read your mind and can only see your action and hear your words. Good intentions and a kind heart are wonderful things, but people cannot see them. They can only see your deeds and hear your words. How will you be remembered?