You may have heard of the ‘Stockdale Paradox’. Admiral James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over seven years. Jim Collins, the author of ‘Good to Great’ asked Stockdale, ‘Which kinds of prisoners didn’t survive?’ The reply was, ‘You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.’ In leading confidently you must be aware of two things. First, recognise the brutal facts of your reality. Second, never lose faith that you are going to prevail in the end. The tips that follow will assist you to lead confidently post Covid-19.
- Develop your vision and a practical strategy to work through the uncertain times. Create a simple and compelling vision that will direct and guide the organisation through the cycle. Follow up with four or five simple strategic priorities.
- Build an atmosphere and expectation of trust in all parts of the organisation. In a tighter economy you need ‘all hands on deck’ and everyone believing in themselves. Trust-based relationships with customers are vital and you cannot afford unnecessary internal distractions if you are to be especially responsive to your customers’ needs.
- Establish a sense of urgency. Reinforce the need for an immediate change in perspective across the entire organisation. The more urgent the need, the more people’s attention will be focussed and their commitment will be assured. Highlight market pressures and point out the competitive realities of the day. Stay positive but, remember, emphasising the consequences of failure can be helpful.
- Create a ‘coalition of the willing’. Bring together a group of people best equipped to help get you through uncertain times. These people should be highly respected, cohesive and as a group have the power and the preparedness to change systems and procedures and make things happen where necessary.
- Generate short term wins. Short term wins highlight what is required and help keep momentum. Recognise and reward people who make these ‘wins’ possible.
- Maintain investment in training. If at all possible, avoid the temptation to abandon or downscale training programs during a downturn. Such a move can ultimately result in a deficiency in your organisation’s skills inventory.
- Talk to your people to gather ideas for cutting costs or growth opportunities. Surprisingly, few managers do this. You may be surprised at the number and quality of suggestions. Look to involve different departments in internal value management relationships or cooperative forms of internal partnerships. Follow Toyota’s maxim that responsibility for the quality of a piece of work lies with the last person to handle it.
- Stay lean. As the cycle turns upward, preserve the best of what your organisation has become. Continue to reduce costs, remain flexible, strive to free up flows of cash.