Real-time CEO insights on leading through Coronavirus

History has taught us that the greatest challenges — similar to today’s Coronavirus — often have a silver lining: the emergence of leaders and heroes. So I am looking for great leaders to communicate an idea that can help other CEOs; my commitment is to share these every day as Real-time CEO insights on leading through Coronavirus at The CEO Forum Group.

As examples, here are the first three:

“In my fifty-year career, I’ve experienced and led companies through many crises, from weather events that destroyed facilities to plane crashes that killed employees, but none of them comes close to the intensity and existential threat of the current crisis, the Coronavirus COVID-19.

However, I learned a lot from those previous disasters and the lessons I learned apply to this one, big time.

1. Engage in Non-Stop Communication

I’m a self-confessed communications freak (many people have confirmed my diagnosis) and a crisis is no time to cut back on communications. Information is power and must be shared, so that people can make good decisions for themselves and for their organizations. Without solid information, people will make up their own, listen to rumors, hope for the best, or imagine the worst. So leaders have to be open, share what they know, respond to questions, reveal what they don’t know, admit when they’ve gotten something wrong. I’m encouraged that so many business leaders are doing just that. In this environment, it’s essential that leaders share information with other company leaders, with government organizations, with the media, and most importantly, with all the constituencies involved in their enterprise including employees, franchisees, financiers, suppliers, partners, and others. Don’t ignore any constituency!

2. Imagine the Post-Crisis Future

I believe in the “power of anticipation.” I learned the importance of envisioning the future and acting on it the hard way from my time at Blockbuster. We could glimpse the future (more video streaming, less physical media) but were not able to take action on what we saw ahead. So, as dire as things are and as focused as you are on getting through the current moment, now is also the time to think about what happens on the other side. The crisis will come to an end, how and when we don’t know, but it will. What will the new normal look like? What things will have changed? What strategies will be obsolete? What opportunities might arise? Who might your competitors be? What have you learned about your organization’s strengths that can be leveraged? How have your employees and customers responded? The food industry, for example, has already seen how important “contact-less” food delivery is to people and expect it will be part of the new normal. Advance Auto Parts, seeing a sharp decline in new car sales, sees opportunity in supplying parts and services for older vehicles.

3. Develop Multiple Sources throughout Your Supply Chain

Never before have we heard so much talk about the supply chain and how important it is for companies and countries to have multiple sources of key products and materials, especially ones that are essential to weathering a crisis. One friend of mine, anticipating problems with his company’s suppliers in China, moved to different sources, all based in Italy. I don’t need to tell you how that worked out. The lesson is that we should always have multiple sources for our ingredients and supplies, and we need to set them up during normal times so they’re ready to come on line when disaster strikes.

4. Be Kind

During a prolonged crisis like this one, people are vulnerable and concerned. Many face furloughs or the loss of jobs, reduced income, uncertain futures, illness. The lucky ones, like me, can successfully work from home. Many people are even discovering unexpected pleasures in the midst of the gloom. We are learning the beauty of “distant socializing,” for example. People are talking more often on WhatsApp or sharing a glass of wine with friends on Zoom. But let’s not forget that many people are suffering badly. Organized charities and philanthropies need support more than ever. My wife, for example, chairs the Greater Boston Food Bank and they have embarked on an unscheduled fund-raising campaign to meet the expected spike in demand for services. We can also engage in more individual acts of support. For example, I know many people who are “pre-paying” their independent service providers and gig workers—such as hair stylists, yoga teachers, house cleaners, lawn-mowers, task handypeople—so they have some income to help them through the worst. The human instinct is to protect ourselves and our families first, but in times like these we have to take care of each other.

So, to get through this as successfully as possible, I encourage you to keep your eye on the big issues: keep people informed about the present, imagine the possibilities of the future, ready the supply chain for the next disaster, and help others as much as you can.

Nigel Travis, Principal, Challenge Consulting LLC.; Chairman, Dunkin’ Brands

“Older people are about twice as likely as younger, healthier people to develop serious outcomes from COVID-19. Many are more reliant on caregivers, friends and family to help them get the food, supplies and medicines they need. In addition to the medical risks, they also face significant social and economic risks from isolation and scam artists who use times like these to steal money or sensitive personal information. We must all go the extra mile to help our most vulnerable citizens feel a sense of security. We’re all in this together.”
Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO, AARP, March 19, 2020

“In the face of this pandemic, leaders of all organizations must, first and foremost, evidence a deep, abiding, and unmistakable concern for the well being of their associates. If they do not evidence that they genuinely “care” about the interests of the associates in a palpable way, it is hard to believe that the associates will “care” enough about the leaders agenda to fully help bring it to life. In that sense, “caring” is the cost of admission to the leadership game.”
Douglas R. Conant, Former CEO, Campbell Soup Company, March 18, 2020

If you, or a CEO you know, has an important insight or best practice — tactical or strategic — for us to share with our CEO community, please email me directly.