There has been a blur of headlines and observations over the last few weeks arguing over the most effective leadership style and approach to decision making to navigate a business at this time.

Has this pandemic thrown out the rule book of leadership and what constitutes the correct action to get the results required and ensure survival, better still grow? No question the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Boards, CEOs and senior executives to abandon the conventional approach to leadership and innovate to make decisions at an unprecedented pace.

Many observations have been based on the approaches used in previous economic crisis, mainly the GFC and further back the “recession Australia had to have” in the early 90’s. A former CEO of a high profile financial institution stated that ‘crisis managers’ must be ruthless with a more aggressive and instinctive management style to lead a business successfully. They argue that a more directive style with foot soldiers taking orders to enable things to get done is the only way to navigate through a crisis.

Perhaps this is the correct style now. Could it be the collaborative and collective decision-making approaches that have been increasingly regarded as key ingredients of successful leadership in recent years, will not get the results required today? Given that results are essentially survival as opposed to hitting a set of revenue forecasts or return on shareholder funds, it could be argued that a direct, aggressive approach is the right one. However, is it right to compare economic crisis’ and to simply adopt an approach of what worked in one will work in this and therefore use the same tactics of command and control?

What is clear, as noted by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “whatever you thought was going to happen in 2020 think again”. That is precisely what every company, large and small, have been doing and essentially discarding the plan they had been working towards and establishing a new plan. In discussions with a number of CEO’s and executive leaders this week what is clear, regardless of style or approach, is the need for information and data and with that a directive in which they “plan for the worst and quickly mobilise for the best”.

Leadership is about making a series of decisions that you base on having the best people around you, using the information and data that is available to you in the best possible way. There aren’t many who would argue that meticulous planning and execution are the hallmarks of successful growth and leadership, with many exceptional examples of market growth and dominance as a result of this level of planning. However, in this COVID-19 environment, the luxury of ‘extended time’ for planning is not available and perhaps striving for perfectionism is more a liability than an asset.

A strong leader and their team will understand in these times that good is enough and seeking perfection in a rapidly changing environment could be fatal.

 Strong leadership also recognises accountability, speed and execution combined with balance and putting differences aside to achieve the one common goal – survival. The current National Cabinet of Australian Federal and State Governments and Territories is a great example of this.

One Chairperson I spoke to expressed that an experienced leadership team working alongside a Board, that has first-hand knowledge of the business and its industry, was the key for success. He qualified that a crisis market, similar to markets and products suddenly disrupted, are ones which evolve and change rapidly. The combined experience of the leadership team and Board can react to make the requisite decisions. It might seem more instinctive or gut feel rather than learned.

A terrific quote to highlight this is from an Executive Director at the World Health Organisation, stating that “If you need to be right before you move, you will lose. Speed trumps perfection, seeking perfection is the enemy, and good is good enough”.

A link to a HBR article, “Perfectionism Will Slow You Down in a Crisis”

One thing is sure though, there will be a whole new generation of leaders who can add COVID-19 to their catalogue of experience and competence moving forward, as after all its been 30 years since Australia last had a recession!

Written By Stuart Chandler , General Manager NSW.

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