Leadership and Culture Series Introduction

This posting introduces a series that will address leadership and culture. Not just the definitions of the words, but their practical applications; what they should mean to a business as well as its employees, consumers, and stakeholders. Leadership and culture will be the foundation on which successful businesses reinvent “business as usual.”

As business leaders work to reopen their companies, they may be struggling with prioritizing the right balance between worker safety, the expectations of their boards or investors, and the interests and safety of their customers and supply chain partners. What steps will they take to balance all of their expectations? Many leaders are being confronted with these difficult decisions for the first time in their careers. After all, there is no playbook or leadership guide for operating in a pandemic and economic crisis. Or even how to handle what comes afterwards.

Some businesses will not recover from this alarming economic period. Some business leaders will find – or make – a way to flourish when the spigot turns back on. Still others will take this opportunity to transform their organizations and evolve their brands based on new opportunities. These will be the people who will draw from the company values and culture they’ve already established to guide their decision making and behaviors.

Consider these unprecedented times a defining moment in charting a leadership style. Now is the perfect time for leaders to throw risk-averse behavior out the window and think outside the box for opportunities they might not have thought of had it not been for the arrival of the pandemic. By taking risks and bold action – even if things don’t end up turning out the way they initially thought – leaders who are flexible will be successful. Not trying something new in order to successfully navigate in this rapidly evolving environment is worse than trying and failing.

Now is not the time to stay safe; it’s the time to embrace new destinations and make decisive, science-based decisions like those made by a few astute leaders is to come out ahead with fewer issues and more support. These leaders took a global view and didn’t wait for things to worsen before taking bold action. They understand that a bigger context than just their community is needed when creating life-saving mandates.

Countries – as well as companies – that have a robust culture have strong leaders who are able to navigate through difficult times more easily than those who have neglected their culture. Everyone may be facing the same pandemic, but the choices leaders take to guide others safely through are built on the culture they have created, as well as their willingness to adapt to what is happening. Not being afraid to pivot is key to being successful.

How do you lead? How did you lead and how will the way you experienced the coronavirus pandemic change the way you lead in the future? Will you strive to create opportunities if something similar happens? Lean into those situations when faced with them. If a need arises, address it. After all, could anyone have foreseen the extreme increase in the need for video conferencing? And how about the individuals, companies, and manufacturers who stepped up to sew and build PPE (personal protective equipment)? Take note of the way each of these organizations or individuals stepped up to the challenges before them; it speaks to their leadership skills. It also, importantly, speaks to their culture.

Although it would be easy to continue to give advice about leadership in a pandemic, leaders need to simply step out of their comfort zone and communicate candidly and frequently with their staff and employees. This open communication sets the standard for those workers to emulate. Stability is paramount during this time and all those in the chain of command can do their part to share and be visible. This is a good time – indeed the optimal time – to lean into your company values and demonstrate those behaviors.

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