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In Uncertain Times, Your Teams Need You: Double Down on the Commitments of Purposeful Leadership®

March 10, 2020 Jennifer McCollum

As the news of COVID-19 escalates and fears grow, we all look to our leaders. At the macro level, we seek guidance from heads of state and health experts. Should we get on the airplane?  Make our own hand sanitizer if we can’t find it on store shelves? In our communities, we rely on local government to learn about the safety of our schools and gathering places. And in our organizations, we look to our leaders, starting with the CEO and cascading to our managers. Should we work from home? How do we respond to customers if services are disrupted or contractual terms need revising? Is my job at risk?

Even in the best of times, leadership is hard work; only 14% of leaders in our database are rated by their managers, peers or direct reports as effective when it comes to their impact on the people, culture and business. But there is a class of companies that consistently outperforms expectations—because they build their leadership capability and capacity. These organizations can relentlessly elevate the performance of their leaders and their workforce while building a great culture, even in dire times.

In a crisis, when the path forward is unclear, leading is even harder. As CEO at Linkage, I am experiencing these challenges firsthand alongside leaders globally doing their very best in this environment. Each day, I learn critical lessons and insights about how I can be better for our employees, clients, partners, suppliers and investors. My personal commitment is to continue to grow and evolve as a Purposeful Leader.

One of my biggest takeaways has been the importance of leading with purpose.

In fact, there is no more important time to double down on our sense of purpose. What is the unique value you and your organization offer the world at a time when all our collective contributions are needed? Last week, Virginia chef Mark LeBlanc and his wife dropped everything to help the victims of deadly tornadoes in Tennessee. His organization, Mercy Chefs, provides prepared food to victims and first responders. His purpose is clearly connected to his work: “It is my calling,” said LeBlanc. “It is what I was born to do.”

At Linkage, our mission is to help companies equip all leaders to perform their roles at the highest levels of effectiveness and impact. In times such as these, this mission is even more critical, as we help leaders face uncertainty with confidence.

Executing our Purpose through Five Commitments is what enables a leader to perform.

Inspire – Leaders must provide hope and inspiration for the future, by directing energy toward a clear and bold vision. Now, leaders still must find a way to communicate in a way that draws in others. Setting shorter-term goals can help rally and focus the team. What can we accomplish this day, this week, or this month? And, as always, leaders must celebrate the successes.

Here’s how I’ve personally put this into play: At Linkage, our teams are focused on near-term activities that align to our purpose and strategy. We are supporting leaders in critical leadership development programs even as travel and budgets contract. We’re rapidly bringing flexibility in delivery and contracting, so our clients can continue executing critical initiatives to ready their high-potential leaders.

Engage – This is a time to bring people together—especially virtually—and ensure they have a chance to contribute to their fullest potential. With many decisions to be made and no road map to guide the way, inviting diverse perspectives will give you better outcomes. Open yourself up to others for their contributions.

At Linkage, I recently implemented a dynamic, new process for inter-team collaboration. We convene 18 leaders from every function and business unit multiple times a week to participate in “Special Attention Meetings,” where we share information, identify immediate needs, and work in cross-functional teams to resolve them. Topics covered at these meetings range from employee communication and business continuity plans, to financial impact and product innovation.

Innovate – Trying times demand accelerated change and reimagination of the business given the realities of daily changes in the external environment. In order to stay competitive and emerge stronger from a crisis, leaders need to drive fast and new thinking.

Our team is currently exploring an alternative digital distribution of our conferences, which will require new capabilities around digital production. We are also accelerating the product release of our digital self-service offerings, with leadership development around effective leadership, advancing women and inclusion, in addition to the online learning opportunities we already offer. We are learning every day, focusing on what works, and staying agile.

Achieve – Successful leaders accomplish successful outcomes by creating appropriate clarity, structure and process. In a crisis, loosening controls may be necessary, and a different structure may be required to allow rapid execution.

We realized over a 48-hour period that the external environment had shifted faster than we could respond. We immediately brought visibility to what decisions had to be made by the end of the day and identified who was responsible for them, regardless of reporting structure.

Become – Above all, in times of uncertainty, leaders must be emotionally present and resilient. As leaders, we are called upon to put the good of the group ahead of ourselves.

Personally, I am striving to be a role model for my teams and my organization. It requires being calmer and more positive than anyone. It requires standing strong in our plan, until we can develop an even better plan. It requires telling the truth and communicating openly about information and decisions as soon as I can. It requires resilience.

Upholding the commitments of Purposeful Leadership® will require more of us than may be reasonable, so we can’t do it alone. Ensure you have a support system with your peers or with a coach. Share your struggles, your hopes and your fears. And ask for help. It’s what is working for me right now.

For those of us who have led for more than 20 years, we have experienced these crises before, including 9/11 in 2001 and the economic decline of 2008–2009. For Millennials, this is likely their first time leading in such uncertainty. At Linkage, our purpose is fulfilled when effective, inclusive, diverse leaders are at the helm—and no time is more urgent than the present to develop them.

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