November 7

How Shall We Lead in Perilous Time? by Richard Tyson

Leadership, Problem Solving


Well, here we go again…

Those of us who work as coaches, advisors, and mentors are accustomed to addressing the internal problems that challenge business leaders. However, most of us were taken completely by surprise when we found ourselves faced with the unprecedented external adversity that seemingly emerged out of nowhere in the form of COVID-19.

When we were suddenly locked down, I have to admit I found myself uncomfortable and perplexed. For well over three decades, I have fielded the internal issues faced by my clients without much angst. Financial, customer, and operational concerns are in my wheelhouse. But this was something I had never experienced.

COVID forced me into a new world of worry, and deep thought–and intense discussions with my own mentors in an effort to come to grips with what we were facing. For the most part, the conclusions we reached were that while we could not solve the external issues that had been foisted upon us, we needed to adopt a “can-do” attitude and stay focused on the internal challenges that continued to be critical for the success of our clients. These were their controllables– and the pandemic hadn’t taken them away.

It was, of course, important to stay abreast of the news regarding COVID on a daily basis, but we needed to be careful that we didn’t allow ourselves or our clients to be overwhelmed by it.

While we continue to deal with the long-term effects of the pandemic, we are grateful that the need for lockdown is over. We are also grateful that most of our clients stayed focused on the internal problems and opportunities within their own companies. They controlled what they could, with an eye to surviving the external threat of COVID. Most of them did this very well.

Which brings us to today…. We can be grateful that the worldwide pandemic is largely under control, but we are now faced with new external challenges that are beyond the control of most business leaders. A violent and horrific war has come to the Middle East, our borders have failed to curtail an unprecedented immigrant flow that threatens the safety and security that we, as Americans, have always taken for granted, and “smash and grab” crime has become so common that it has led long-time retail businesses to shut their doors. Add all this to “acts of God” like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes–and it is clear that business leaders cannot turn a blind eye to such externalities.

What are we to do? While I believe that it is essential that we keep one eye continually focused on world events, the other must continue to be concentrated on the internal issues that are critical for business success and survival. Primarily, these include:

Financial Management and Sustainability

I believe now is a time for intensifying your attention to cash flow, profitability, and sources of funding. In uncertain and perilous times, wisdom suggests that businesses need to develop strategies to conserve sufficient cash to sustain them through economic, political, or societal crises. This should be a topic for discussion for every executive team.

Digital Transformation and Technology Adoption 

The digital world has evolved so rapidly that many businesses are overwhelmed by technological advances like artificial intelligence, e-commerce, and online marketing. As externalities become more threatening, it is clear that there will continue to be new technological responses. Keeping up with these–and learning how to use them–while a daunting challenge, is an existential necessity. Cybersecurity is also a growing concern that virtually all businesses need to address.

Talent Management and Employee Retention

Finding and retaining skilled employees has always been important. In our unsettled post-COVID world, it is even more essential. Today’s workforce is more mobile–and generally less loyal–than ever, making it necessary for leaders to create highly engaging cultures where people buy into well-articulated and highly compelling corporate purposes, missions, and values. Training should also focus on strong competency development that builds confident, highly effective and efficient employees. This will be increasingly critical as businesses strive to stay competitive and retain talent.

There is little doubt that the world in which we are doing business is increasingly unsettled. This presents each leader with new strategic and leadership challenges–and opportunities. While we cannot avoid the disruptive effects of emerging and long-term externalities, we can proactively face them with a “can do” mindset and a focus on the internal issues that are within our control. Great leaders will rise to the occasion that such perilous times offer.

About the author 

Rich Tyson

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