The interesting thing about leadership is that it’s often easier said than done. Many articles treat leadership like a to-do list, which if you simply check off all the key traits, you’ll be able to call yourself a great leader.
This might even work in situations when there is no risk or cost at hand, but the reality is, that a person’s leadership ability is often exhibited, and tested the most, at times of crisis.
That’s when a person’s real character and instincts are called upon to make the best of a trying situation. If you can be a strong leader through a crisis, you can be a strong leader through anything.
With the impact of COVID-19, leadership has been a reoccurring topic for many founders and CEOs. The global pandemic has forced many of us to examine, review and refine how we lead and what leadership truly looks like.
I always tell my team that there is a difference between leadership and management. They may look similar, but they each serve different needs and are equally important.
Harvard Business professor John Kotter describes the difference between leadership and management as the following:
- Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership is about coping with change.
- Management is planning and budgeting. Leadership is setting a direction.
- Management is organising and creating an organisational structure. Leadership is about aligning people.
- Management is about monitoring results and communicating a plan. Leadership is about motivating and inspiring people.
With many companies still recovering from the major pivots and changes resulting from COVID-19, strong leadership will be vital in the months to come, especially for startups that may be facing a number of uncertainties and unknowns.
Even as a seasoned leader, COVID-19 tested my leadership skills. It forced PatSnap’s leadership team and I to make some big changes, often quickly and without the usual degree of confidence we like to operate with. Since the onset of the virus, we’ve made our European and North American workforces 100 per cent remote.
The decision wasn’t easy as there were many factors at play — agility of our staff, potential for drops in performance and overall employee morale. But in times of crisis, a leader needs to make decisions based on both the present circumstances and the future potential, and we knew going remote was our best bet for success.
I’m proud to say that this decision worked out for the better. The teams adapted extremely well, and we saw an increase in productivity from the teams in both regions.
We have since permanently amended our work-from-home policy to allow employees more flexibility in their work arrangements, as we believe that the future of work will be remote. By seamlessly integrating this into our business early on, we’re hoping to solidify our position as a leader in the industry.
Times of crisis often require a thorough review of your business strategy to determine if it can weather the storm. After an analysis of our business, myself and the senior team made the decision to pivot our business to a new model.
During Q2, we opened up our solutions and made them free to any company for a limited period. In doing this, we effectively shifted our business to a product-led growth model.
This pivot was one of the key reasons we were able to sustain sales in Q2 and build a healthy pipeline for Q3, but this decision was the result of intuitive leadership. I did not have any market research or data to support the notion that moving to a product-led growth strategy during a time of crisis would be successful, but I knew instinctually that doing this was the right thing to do.
In the short term, it was about fulfilling our responsibility to helping companies innovate during a time of need. In the long term, it was about realising that our business wasn’t going to be the same post-COVID-19 and finding a new way to generate business was inevitable.
We’ve spent the last 14 years developing a strong group of connected innovation intelligence solutions and I knew that now was the best time to lead with our product and let potential customers see the benefits for themselves. Some might say it’s too risky to make such sharp pivots during a crisis, but often a crisis is the best opportunity to revamp, redesign and innovate your business.
Strong leadership is what makes all the difference between a well-intentioned effort that falls short of your goals, and a unanimously successful outcome for your business.
At the end of the day, leadership is really about embracing change, while withstanding a lot of uncertainty. Being a leader in crisis takes conviction, as you need to set a direction and give a team a clear vision to align to, and rally around.
It is both an art and a science to be able to do this, because sometimes it requires making decisions without data or certainty. Leading during COVID has taught me that there are times when data cannot tell you the full picture, and where you need to follow your gut instincts. To me, those moments are what define you as a leader, and help shape your leadership legacy.
Use those moments to rise to the occasion and meet whatever personal limitations you’re facing head-on. Bravely examine all aspects of your business to determine what is working and what isn’t. Identify the elements that can be restructured, reworked or revamped without putting the entire business at jeopardy, be mindful of the future while planning for the present and increase your tolerance for making a decision without data.
These are the keys to surviving a crisis and pivoting under pressure while retaining a sense of assurance, grace and ease. If you understand how to hone your leadership in times of chaos, you will be able to double down on this skill in times of growth and abundance.