Leadership in Turbulent Times

COVID-19 has turned the business world on its head, forcing many companies across the globe to modify, and in some cases, scrap their 2020 plans  and reconsider how they operate at a fundamental level.

Shifting to remote work arrangements, adjusting to changing customer needs, and minimizing inefficiencies to reduce costs are just a few of the major tasks that business leaders have had to take on in response to the coronavirus.

As disruptive as the pandemic has been, business leaders should not treat it as a one-time event that they can soldier through and then forget. It is likely that there will be long term and lasting effects from the virus as well as future turbulences, whether it’s an economic downturn, natural disaster, social upheaval or another public health crisis. Leaders need to equip their companies with the tools and know how to weather these kinds of storms and create strategies that guide them through both growth and decline.

Stanford University professors Huggy Rao and Bob Sutton recently sat down with industry advisor Kaye Foster, an adviser, philanthropist, and former senior vice president for Global Human Resources at Onyx Pharmaceuticals. Foster has seen firsthand what it takes to lead organizations through difficult times and works with CEOs, leaders and teams to help ensure an organization's long-term success. Foster shares some of her thoughts on the best ways to survive and thrive in turbulent periods.

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Step back, take a ‘pause’

Great leaders are often described as being decisive and having a take-charge attitude. Too often, executives mistake “decisiveness” for acting quickly. During a crisis, there’s a natural instinct to respond to the situation as fast as possible. After all, you want your employees, customers, vendors, distributors and business partners to know you’re on top of it, right?

As Foster points out, though, there’s a distinct difference between speed and urgency. Recognizing that a situation needs to be addressed as soon as possible — and as effectively as possible — is more important than  devising a plan too quickly without knowing if it may or may not work. She recommends taking a “pause” and deliberately creating a response strategy that has clearly defined steps and addresses the organization’s main requirements. If you can do that quickly — even better. But don’t feel like you need to provide an immediate answer to a complex problem.

Plan ahead with a firm business continuity plan

If you wait until a crisis develops to create a response plan, you’re already behind the curve. Foster explains that, during her time as a senior advisor to many different companies and firms, one of the first issues she  always addresses is the status of the business continuity plan. Proactively minimizing and managing risk puts organizations in a strong position to react to turbulent times and weather any financial hardships they might experience.

Foster stressed that it’s critical that executives and other business leaders craft their business continuity strategies when things are relatively stable so they don’t get blindsided when the inevitable crisis occurs.

Surround yourself with diverse voices

There’s rarely a simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the types of challenges that threaten to derail normal business operations. In many cases, business leaders need to approach the problem from different angles to find the right solution — or combination of solutions — to minimize risk, protect revenue streams and capitalize on opportunities that might emerge.

During a crisis, it’s not helpful to be locked into a particular way of thinking. Foster strongly urges business leaders to create company cultures that embrace diversity and welcome different ideas. Allowing for more voices to be heard and views to be expressed can lead to innovative solutions that you might have never considered.

Leadership skills are more important than ever during times of crisis. Learn more about what it takes to succeed by watching the full webinar.

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If you’re interested in more about building leadership skills, consider enrolling in Stanford Online’s “Leading Innovation” course. You will learn how to motivate and support teams to create innovative solutions for today’s marketplace and develop the necessary skills to become an inspiring leader. 

Earn your certificate today and start shaping yourself into the business leader you’ve always dreamed of becoming.