When does a situation turn into a crisis? I can’t put my finger on the moment when this one started.
When the lockdown began, I thought it was a 3 month thing and then we would go back to what we were doing. It’s a bloody flu, I thought, we have all outlived a few coughs and some runny noses.
As days passed and the number of cases grew, it started to worry me.
106 days later, It feels like a bloody charade. Wake up in the morning, log in, try to be productive the entire day and go back to bed, wake up the next morning. It is Groundhog day. I have reached a point where I think I work because I am bored or too anxious to not work.
The ambiguity and uncertainty that each morning reveals is unsettling.
This is a crisis and I don’t have any experience of handling something like this. I don’t know how to deal with this. At least not yet and I am right in the middle of it. The best I can do is write down my experience of dealing with it one day at a time. So far, these are my learnings in no particular order.
What are you willing to Pay
Most stories talk about great leaders rising to the occasion with a singular focus and saving the day. I am inspired by them but I don’t know if I can be that guy. It is difficult enough to focus in a situation where everything is so foggy.
When it first started, my singular focus was to protect my business. I feel I am wavering. Maybe, it requires more than just a singular focus. There are so many balls we are juggling with at any given point of time. This crisis is pushing me in a corner and forcing me to figure out what is my real priority. I think we all know what our priorities are. What are things that we are willing to sacrifice is something I suppose I struggled with. My values say people first but these are extra ordinary times and in these situations, I have realised values are flexible. It shouldn’t be but they are. We are animals first and leaders second. Understanding my priorities has helped me not feel guilty about compromising my values. Knowing what I am willing to sacrifice has given me clarity. Harsh, but true. Survive.
Money under the mattress
Have you heard about ‘saving for a rainy day’? Well, It’s pouring at the moment. So, if you have money under the mattress, even if it’s not your mattress, take it out. Break your kid’s piggy bank, if you must. In a crisis, the last thing, I want to worry about is money. I need money so that I can worry about a million other things. Can’t do both at the same time. It’s survival time. You need to get crawl out of this situation and money in hand is worth two under the mattress. When things get back to normal, fill it back it again. I am gonna say this again, Survival is my singular focus.
Long term goals
We started 2020 with a clear focus and well thought strategy. Everything changed in a matter of 2 and half months. It would be a few weeks before I would gather myself and come up with a new focus. And then Lockdown 2. And it continued. It is a bit like watching a bad crime television series with never-ending twists and turns and you had to endure them all because you really want to know ‘whodunit’. So, I am waiting for the final episode. Not really enjoying them but I am learning to live in the moment. No point planning or building castles in the air. One year from now is not worth planning. Not yet. One week from now, on the other hand, is damn important. Building yourself for a week, playing it by ear, setting realistic goals for the week has proven to be key
Sometimes, I wonder how my grandpa, with his love for predictability, is coping with the situation. At some level, all leaders like predictability and pursue it with a mission for details so that things don’t go wrong. And here is a situation where things will go wrong. It is trial and error. This is new, too new to predict anything.
The instinct is to fight it and plan anyway. And then I realised this is such a waste of time. I am not the fatalistic kind. I do believe in writing my own destiny. Right now though, I am running out of ink. And so, in the lines of finding my ‘chi’ I have stopped fighting with the world and instead have started fighting with myself. You have no idea how difficult it is to win against yourself.
Of course, this is temporary and I know when this is all over, I will go back to finding control of the situation. Right now, I have to find a way to win over my self.
And there are some wins along the way. The thing about the small wins is that they are very small. For example, a query. One single query from a client whom you have never heard about, a query for something you do not have capacity to deliver. But, hey, it’s still a query. You have to really, really look and amplify it. And when you do amplify it, it gives hope. Yes, hope has replaced expectations and I am learning to play with it …. fast. Remember, it’s not just you, your team needs a flash of hope too. They are in your boat and they better feel like you are navigating the rough sea towards dry land if you want them to row harder. Nothing is worse than rowing in a direction that has no end. You are the source of hope. Finding hope is my responsibility. So I am hunting for hope.
I am scared. I am certain my team is petrified. I speak with them, made some wonderful motivational speeches which I don’t think really helped them but helped me a lot. (Ah, the power of self talk) I keep them busy. Real busy. The more they think, they more they stress and it shows. I have delegated a lot of my work and given them massive responsibilities. Me? Worrying and stressing is my full time job now; it shouldn’t be theirs.
Engage with them. Communicate, which I am sure, everybody is doing. Its actually a great test to see what they really bring to the table. Sure you will find some deadweights but you will also find some fighters, like street fighter types, who get excited when they see blood. You know they are the ones you have to protect more. Also, understand that they need to unplug. I encourage day offs. Remember, the work hours are still 9 to 6. You don’t have the right to bother them post the working hours. The rules haven’t changed. It’s just the situation.
There are things you can do other than worry. Re-draw your roadmap. The good thing about this situation is that it exposed us, our business. Things that we swept under the rug for the longest time have started to stink. Being a small business, we are extremely relationship focused and might not have quite invested in systems and processes.. And while that has brought us this far, it can’t take us any further. We have always been proud of the fact that we built our business based on word of mouth and didn’t really make effort to get into digital marketing or go digital at all. That has come back to bite us. Identify the vulnerabilities of your business. Can it be worked on or does it need a complete make over? And if it is the latter, you will never find a better time then now to do so.
Crisis is a great leveller. Right now, we are on equal footing with our biggest or smallest competitor. If you are big, you probably have a longer financial runway and if you are small, you will not fall as hard as the big boys. It is a question of initiatives. Are you brave enough to take one or are you just waiting to go back to what it was?
I have created a cheat sheet for leading in crisis. It is actually quite simple and easy to use. In case you are interested, DM me and I would be happy to send it to you.
I Train Consultants India Pvt. Ltd.
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