Opinion: MERA founding board member David Singleton on leadership during coronavirus

Strong but compassionate leadership is required in these tough times, he says
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David Singleton
David Singleton

The current crisis that is consuming our lives is transforming every bit of how we work, live, think, behave, react, reflect on the past and for many fearful of what is around the corner.

But given the strength of the challenge our feelings are more affected than ever before whether it’s down to our decisions on others or the reverse.

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Leaders are stepping up: Strong leadership and crisis management experience is called for at times of emergency, whether we bring someone in to assist for short periods of time, or we have it in place already to make sure we have everything possible in place to take care of our people or brand. It’s compounded more so now multiple times. Not just with the sheer size of the challenge, but peoples’ preparedness. No one ever thought this would ever happen, other than Bill Gates now famously predicted five years ago that we were not ready, but “the world avoided a global outbreak of Ebola, thanks to thousands of selfless health workers plus, frankly, some very good luck." In hindsight, we know what we should have done better.

So, now's the time to put all our good ideas into practice, from scenario planning to vaccine research to health worker training. "There's no need to panic ... but we need to get going” All very well and good, but how have Microsoft managed the current crisis? Well it seems ok, even a global company like them has experienced early stutters, but issues were very quickly resolved with employees (according to Business Insider) "…who initially said they were disappointed with Microsoft's response said now 'respect for leadership is at the highest.'" And that is what we have to strive for at this time.

The best organisations show compassion, harness the power of teams and leverage talent; few of us have had the training, or knowledge, or skills to prepare for times like this, but now more than ever we have to think hard about the consequence of our actions and the effect of them on our people and brand. The toughest decisions to reduce pay, reduce the workforce, in some cases close businesses. But in doing so, are we compassionate? If we reduce pay, do we reduce workload? If we reduce the workforce are we thinking about the duel impact of those affected; those who are leaving and those picking up additional work.

Of course, there are fundamental business decisions to make and take, but always ensure that your people are looked after and your brand protected. Your actions here and now affect both of these and you still need your people feeling good about how you looked after them at tough times, and still act as your brand evangelists once they’ve gone.        

Organisational survival will depend on the company’s ability to show resiliency and transform in real-time. We are advising our clients to make this one a huge focus. As a leadership team slimming down and taking long-serving and wonderful people out of the business when they least expected it, think of the potential consequence of your actions. Many are having to work with speed but don’t let that affect the critical detail required to close down these matters. It’s how our employees think, feel and behave in response to our actions now will affect the long term good of the business and future potential of the brand.  We read about leaders who are doing amazing things for their people, caring about how they feel and it will be those businesses that I hope will mostly likely prosper over others who turn their backs on their people, communicate without feeling or articulate bad news with care and dignity these times so desperately need.

David has worked in the hospitality and retail industry in the USA, EMEA and South Asia as a brand builder, creator, operator, franchisee, franchisor for some of the world’s best known and respected brands. He advises brands how to strategically grow through franchising, organisational structure, brand design and development or investment.   
Contact him on David@SociusGroup.com or follow him on Instagram and Twitter @singletoncity

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