Do you know what is going to come next post-pandemic? I don’t. Like most, I have some ideas and informed opinions, but I’m no futurist.
Nobody is sure what will happen next, but almost everybody agrees life and business will be very different from before. “Business as usual” is over.
How do you lead effectively in an environment with so many unknowns?
Has there ever been a time when we were really “certain?”
How many believed a pandemic would lock down the world? Very few. Like me, you were fairly certain that life would continue much as it had in the past. But you and I were wrong and our certainty proved false. Our world got upended by something we knew could happen but didn’t believe would.
Being uncertain and right is better than being certain and wrong.
Recently I wrote about uncertainty in the new abnormal. It is about doing business in an environment constantly changing. Once you think you understand what’s normal, you miss the abnormal which as Covid-19 proved can really scramble your plans.
But being uncertain doesn’t mean you can’t get it right. And certainty that turns out to be wrong can be devastating.
Here’s a guide to leading through the uncertainty of what comes next.
Rethink. You’ve been rethinking much already, maybe everything. The problem isn’t the need to rethink but the ability to do it well and create workable solutions.
If you operate a restaurant, do you just serve food or create a safe environment for a special meal out?
As a university, is it necessary for students learn at a campus far away? Or might they learn online and meet regularly with a “mini-campus” in their town organized and run by a university representative?
What employees need to come back to the office and which can work more effectively remotely?
Leaders are wondering about compliance and what will be demanded, and what employees and customers want and need. How do you reach a conclusion?
We are drowning in an information tsunami. The biggest challenge leaders have today isn’t accessing information but assessing that information for validity and relevance.
Gather as much useful and relevant information as you can, and then filter it against your years of experience and the experience of others.
Think tabula rasa, or blank slate. Consultants used to ask, “What business would you be in if you started all over again?” The current crisis has largely reset most businesses, so that question is more relevant than ever.
Beware the lure of easy solutions. They are often offered up by “experts” who are offering conjecture rather than empirical based guidance. Your biggest challenge is to think harder and better than you have before. Be prepared to exert real mental effort. Leading out of crisis requires it.
Reinvent. How do you convert your thoughts to results? Reinvention is how you act on the information you’ve gathered and create real innovation.
Reinvention, is about doing, exciting, performing and accomplishing.
No matter how complex or difficult, execution always comes down to this:
The right people…
…doing the right things…
…at the right time.
You’ve got to cut through the bureaucratic crap that has slowed you down if not crippled you in the past. It isn’t about looking good, it is about being good. It isn’t about vague intentions but concrete results. Anyone can have a good idea, but leaders implement them.
Planning can no longer but just digital docs (a replacement for the 3 rings binders of yesterday), timelines and graphics that look brilliant but that remain unused. Planning needs to be quick and dirty with an emphasis on accomplishment rather than just activity.
In times of uncertainty, agility and experimentation trump planning and process. Most executives are reluctant to try things they don’t think will work. In the new abnormal, nobody knows what will or won’t work. The winner will be those who quickly try new ideas. If they work they adjust to make them better. If an idea doesn’t work they either improve it so it does or quit doing it. This is the essence of innovation guided by your rethinking.
Go big and go small. You need both. While implementing easy ideas first gives you a sense of accomplishment, don’t let that prevent tackling the really big goals. Prioritize and timeline what you need to do.
If it works, do it again and try to do it better. If it doesn’t work, see if it can be made workable or stop doing it. And don’t think that something that works initially will always work. The new abnormal requires vigilance.
Renewal. Increasingly I talk to leaders who are fatigued. The crisis has kept them even busier than before. Even the strongest and most committed can burn out and become ineffective.
Renewal is physically and intellectually necessary and should be an ongoing activity. It can and should happen at the end of each day or during free time like weekends.
When do relax and take account? When was the last time you did something for fun, not just something necessary? Nobody can determine what keeps your battery charged better than you.
Reading for enjoyment rather than education is one form of renewal. Physical activity and sports are another. Time spent with those most important in your life can renew you. Ironically, when you need these things most they often get replaced with work and effort.
These 3Rs are a cycle, not once and done. It is an ongoing process. Leaders must always be rethinking, reinventing and renewing. And only renewal will give you the mental, physical and emotional energy you need for the thinking and doing.
You can frame your current challenges as oppressive difficulties. You can also see them as unprecedented opportunities to create and innovate. For all the negative consequences Covid-19 has created, there are likely just as many or more new opportunities. Leaders use the 3Rs to seize and exploit them.
Mark Sanborn is an award winning speaker and Leadership Expert in Residence at High Point University, the Premier Life Skills University. For more information about his work, visit www.marksanborn.com. He also teaches professional speakers and leaders how to increase their messaging and public speaking effectiveness. Learn more here.