Most of us have never lived through a global pandemic before. This is unprecedented. What is not unprecedented is a sudden change in technology, culture or politics that throws businesses into chaos. Any new technological advancement challenges old business models. As we know, the advent of the Internet put a lot of companies out of business yet also created remarkable opportunities.
Change in the business world is one thing we have dealt with before. And we know how to do it. The question now is: how do we do business differently, now that the world is different?
Recently we have seen extraordinary acts of courage and commitment, not just from the health workers, but also from front line employees who risk their health in service of the public. So what can leaders and organisations do to emulate this high sense of commitment and duty?
If you talk to anyone in the military about how they do what they do, including running into difficult situations and facing probable death, they will all tell you they don’t do it for God or Country. They do it for the person to the left of them and for the person to the right of them. It’s about courage, trust and culture. And it’s the same for all of us.
Courage isn’t an internal thing, it is external. The reason we have the courage to jump out of an aeroplane is because we have the parachute on our back. It’s the external thing that gives us the courage to leap. It’s the same in organisations. The organisations where there is the most courage, you will see camaraderie, love amongst the people, and you will see people caring about each other. Companies that have not invested in trust, culture and leadership over the years will have to rely on the small groups of people and teams, and their personal feelings of responsibility.
What can you do when you find yourself in this situation? How do you build trust in the current environment? It starts with extreme honesty. A leader would need to come out and say something like: “I realise that the way we ran our business in the last 10 years, really was too short term and too finite-minded. And I realise that too often we sacrificed our people and, for the damage we have done, we will now pay the price for it. I take responsibility for this and realise that this crisis has revealed to me the error of my ways and now is the time for change.”
It will require an extreme expression of vulnerability to set the ship on the right path. And if courage is the external thing that gets us to take this leap, perhaps our purpose and culture is the thing that can get us to take the emotional risk, and then jump.