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Leading Through Challenge

April 17, 2020

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In recent conversations with business leaders navigating unprecedented change and uncertainty, the following four themes have emerged as helpful principles for leading through highly challenging times.

  1. Focus on what is not changing - Many specific circumstances we are facing are unprecedented, but the dynamic of rapid, disorienting change is not. Many aspects of John Kotter’s guidance on Leading Change are applicable here. Specifically, spend some time focusing on what is not changing. Principles which have guided you through difficult times before remain as applicable as ever: focus, prioritization, perseverance, resilience. In a leadership role continue to communicate frequently in order to promote alignment and engagement through rapidly changing conditions. Keep in mind it is seldom possible to over communicate an important message.
  2. Establish and maintain routines and structure - If you are moving more rapidly during this period, keep routines and structures in place that allow you keep perspective and maintain your health and energy. Velocity is not always the answer to complexity. Keep regular breaks, meals, activity/exercise and sleep on your schedule. Maintain your routines and establish new ones. They provide the framework and foundation from which to manage smaller tasks so your energy and focus can be directed to the larger challenges. Give yourself a break if you find you are operating at less than full efficiency until you can restore some of the structure on which that efficiency was based. William Bridges’ work on Transitions confirms that sudden and significant changes are often accompanied by a temporary decline in efficiency.
  3. Separate fact from noise - Take care of yourself, continue to monitor and moderate emotional responses. Avoid those voices escalating emotion into panic. Charles Mackay in his work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds said that people go mad in herds and return to sanity one by one. Stay away from the noise that foments overreaction, discouragement, or panic. Search for facts and data on which to base strategic decision making. Separate yourself from the ‘herd’ and be guided by your own critical thinking and strategic vision. Use facts and data as stepping‐stones to the other side of a significant, but temporary, challenge.
  4. Take Care of Yourself - No matter how busy, stressful, intense, or consuming your current environment seems, there is always time to take care of yourself. This is the foundation on which your effectiveness depends. As Stephen Covey pointed out in Seven Habits, taking time to maintain and strengthen your physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional well‐being is at the core of your effectiveness. Keep it as your priority. Sleep, eat, and exercise to boost your energy, strengthen your immunity, and maintain the perspective you need, especially under highly challenging conditions.

Our Insights are published as a service to clients and friends. They are intended to be informational and do not constitute legal advice regarding any specific situation. 

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