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People-Centric Leadership in Difficult Times

Written by :
February 21, 2021
Leadership & Teamwork
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These are strange times. The script is being rewritten everyday. Pandemics are the stuff of movies. Fictional, until today. 

Jack Nicholson, in A Few Good Men, famously says, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

The truth, friends, is that we are smack-dab in the middle of a pandemic. And we are forced to handle it. But you know what? Some people cannot handle it. Some of those people are in our team. So we, as leaders, have to handle the truth. And handle it well.

We need to do a number of things: steady the ship, chart a dynamic course of action and keep our team’s action and motivation set on moving forward without being distracted by the surrounding chaos.

We break this down into three areas: 

1) Effective Strategies

  • Focus on Critical Outcomes
  • Build Ownership through a Structured Strategy Process
  • Go Big or Go Home  

2) Effective Communication

  • Portray Calmness
  • Build Confidence

3) Effective Leaders

1. Effective Strategising


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The plan must be dynamic enough to deal with unpredictable factors that may cause further disruption. What the best leaders do is to build a base strategy and use this as a foundation to agilely navigate the changing landscape before them.

The more heads in the room, the more the dynamism. Get your senior managers actively engaged in finding solutions. Bring them into the discussions and devise alternatives in moving forward.

Some components of this process include: 

Focus on Critical Outcomes 

You start with a brainstorming process (storm of ideas, unfiltered and uncensored), but eventually and quickly narrow the options down.

Identify no more than 3 critical outcomes that the company must achieve during this period. Your team will be tempted to widen the net, but you, as the leader, will keep them on track. Of course, a little bit of dabbling in lesser priorities is understandable. But the focus – just on those three!

 Some ideas on what the most common critical outcomes could be: 

  • Cost control parameters — Payment priorities, cost-cutting initiatives, identifying loss-making products to discontinue.
  • Cash Collection catalysts — Strategies to secure collections fast. Innovations to add value to customers’ businesses.
  • Income streams — Secure or expand income streams? Are there new opportunities to be capitalised upon?
  • Manpower deployment — Managing manpower in the next 6 to 12 months, including retraining and reassigning. Budgeting and acting on manpower costs and making the right decisions with regard to these, even if it means facing unpleasant realities. Realities faced early are better than realities avoided.
  • Process strengthening – Align and optimise process to get the most output out of the leanest input. 

This list is not exhaustive. But remember, less is best. Limit the foci to three!


Build Ownership through a Structured Strategy Process 

Use a strategy framework that you and your team are familiar with. These may include SWOT-TOWS, Design Thinking, Six Path Framework from Blue Ocean Strategy and more. 

With any process or framework that you use, do it step-by-step. Be efficient, but do not be unduly rushed. Use this process to give ownership and individual confidence to your team. Pre-think  the process to give assurance during it.

Go Big or Go Home

Extreme times call for extreme measures. What got you here may not get you there. Moments like this can prove to be pivotal to an organisation’s success.

In the process of designing strategy as well as forming team and individual initiatives to support that strategy, welcome a brainstorm of ideas from everyone, focusing on how their individual function can help achieve them.  You want to achieve brain-STORMING, not brain-DRIZZLING

When new ideas are suggested, no matter how crazy or inappropriate they may sound, you should react appropriately to continue  encouraging new, wild ideas.

Take care to avoid using phrases such as:

  • Are you serious?
  • That is/sounds impossible
  • We have never done that before

… and the biggest dampener, What a stupid idea!

These statements coming from a leader will demotivate not just the individual proposing the idea, but also kills the brainstorming mode in the room.

Instead, build confidence and ownership by  using phrases such as “great idea”, “tell me more”, “can you explain?” and even “Wow!

The goal is two-fold:

  • To build great strategy
  • To build up the joy of idea-contribution

The great ideas are there. You just need your team to be brave and motivated enough to voice them out.

2. Effective Communication 

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The worst thing a leader can do in this situation is to go into silence. Even if you don’t immediately know what to do, your people must people need a sense of security from you. 

Portray calmness

Be a mirror. When people look to your for guidance, it is not just for the strategies, solutions and ideas. It is also in your body language and mannerisms. By being calm yourself, you will encourage calmness in others.

It is key to make calmness visible

Operationalise calmness in your body language and expressions by:

  • Keeping a smile on your face
  • Relaxing your facial muscles – especially your brows
  • Rolling out your shoulders
  • Minimising jittery movements such as hand wrangling, feet-tapping and finger-drumming

Build Confidence 

Use your words to paint a picture of stability, hope and success for your people. There is no need to be a professional motivational speaker. Be yourself and find your own style. Transparency and authenticity will increase the impact of your words. 

The best way to start is by planning and using the best words and phrases. Here are some suggestions for you:

  • This season will springboard us into the next phase…
  • This presents an excellent opportunity to…
  • Our team is strong and united 
  • We need you (this includes your team in the solution)

Identify the biggest worry on your team’s mind and address it by sharing relavant information that can give them a sense of stability. Some examples include:

  • We have a contingency plan for situations like this
  • We have 6 months of available cash
  • We have ready sources for cash
  • Our customers are stable and have trust in us
  • Your leaders have come up with a 3-Step Plan

Take care to disclose as much as is prudent - follow up with disclosure of some level of information that will put people's mind at ease. But do not exaggerate. And, of course, do not share sensitive information.


3. Effective Leaders 

You need a team of leaders. You are not physically capable of being everywhere, addressing everything at the same time. You will need other leaders who can emulate all that we shared above.

For your managers, it is crucial for them to be able to practice the same things you do in order for the leadership team to present a unified message to the entire organisation. As for non-people managers, you can emphasize role of personal leadership. 

This is a great season to empower, test and build leaders.

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Written by :
February 21, 2021
Leadership & Teamwork
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