Leaders across our industry are facing this unprecedented crisis head on from many different angles. But there are few out there that share this exact experience -- managing volatile change and uncertainty with an organization they don’t know very well.
At first my feelings were very human -- Why me? Why this? I want my first 90-day points on the board. I want to show I can make a difference. Drive the agenda. Connect with our great clients. Not lose the first seeds of momentum. These were still “early” days, and I was cautious about giving in to fears.
But then something else happened. The sheer force and reality of a crisis put things into perspective fast. I suddenly realized that I may be luckier than most because I could apply my values as a leader with clarity and purity -- free from biases or blind spots that sometimes come from years at an organization.
It quite simply slammed me back to the basics I believe in for us and our clients.
We all have a broader set of values that pertain to relationships, creativity and growth. But when it comes to leadership, especially in volatile times like the ones we find ourselves in right now, there are four principles that, in my opinion, never fail.
1. Put the business first in every decision you make. These days, this sentiment could be misconstrued as not being "people first." It isn’t.
A healthy business employs people. It creates growth for all and helps you survive the bad times. A healthy business includes having a healthy culture. An unhealthy business can neither sustain a healthy culture or help any people. Centering on the needs of the business is where you find the objectivity to make the tough calls
2. Be decisive and remove the emotion. This does not mean being unemotional or uncaring. It means being objective, strong and confident. Rarely are problems black and white. Often, they are so full of opposing opinions and complexities that throwing a dart could feel like the best approach.
Steer out of highly emotional situations by getting to the underlying principal for decision making. This is often a challenge at agencies because we work with an extreme range of people, skills and personalities, but when you share the underlying principal with people, they can more easily accept the ultimate decision even if they don’t like it.
Emotional decision-making quietly robs everyone of consistency, objectivity and confidence, which ultimately destroys organizational trust.
3. Respect and value the people around you. You only get one chance at this. In my book, that means being direct, thankful, trusting, fair and calm. Assume people are strong, capable and can overcome adversity until they prove otherwise.
Don't sugar-coat. And in the current climate of crisis, find new ways to deliver this spirit -- a direct phone call, a virtual all-staff meeting. Leverage your leadership team as an extension of you and pay attention to the little things, as they matter now more than ever.
4. Lastly, go hard/easy on yourself. Hold yourself accountable for everything that matters to the organization, but recognize you will make mistakes. Spend time with friends and family that help you put things into perspective.
If you lose perspective, you are of little use. And if you have done a fair amount right, the team will be right there to support you through thick or thin, just as you support them.
The one thing that underpins each of these principles is trust. As leaders, we need to trust ourselves and the decisions we are making each day. And we need to build and sustain trust with our teams.
Trust is what we lean on most in times of crisis, but for me, I'm working with many people who don't know me -- who I have not built that trust with yet. So I'm building it day by day, reaching down to explain my decisions as things are unfolding.
I am currently in week eight as CEO, and while the traditional playbook for starting a new job has long been thrown out the window at this point, I think this current crisis will help us write a new rule book for leadership in our industry.
I move onward with my eyes open -- guiding our agency through this next chapter and trying to learn from the curveballs that each new day brings.
Stay safe and healthy out there.