JMT Certified

The journey out of COVID

“People would rather follow a leader who is always authentic, than a leader who is ‘never wrong’.”

Some years ago I was heading off to visit with my daughter who lived in Reigate, just south of London.  Now, I live in Staffordshire which is in the Midlands, so, normally we would travel south using the M6 and the M40, but on this occasion, Google Maps told me that there was unusually heavy traffic on the M40.  Ultimately it turned out that there had been an accident and the M40 ended up being closed for several hours.  

I had a choice to make: do we use the M6, M5 and then the M4, or go cross-country to use the M1?  Actually, it didn’t much matter much whether we used the M6/M5/M4 or went to join the M1, but it did matter that I decided one way or the other.  It also mattered whether I believed that Google Maps was giving accurate information, or that “it would probably be alright by the time we get there”.

This morning I am writing this blog in the middle of the disruption caused by the pandemic, and Google Maps tells me that the alternative journey would take between 3 hours and 22 minutes, and 3 hours and 51 minutes depending on the route, about 30 minutes difference between them, and neither would be more than 45 minutes longer than the original route.  However, if the M40 motorway was actually closed and I ended up stuck in traffic it could take more than twice as long.  

Our journey out of COVID is rather like that road trip, where a major road along our route has been closed.  We know that there is a delay along the way, so we can either assume “it will probably be all right when we get there”, or choose one of several other routes to reach our destination.  

I am reminded of a scene from Alice In Wonderland.  Alice arrives at a crossroads where a Cheshire cat is sitting nearby. Alice asks the cat “Which road should I take?”.  The cat responds: “Where are you going?” and Alice confesses: “I don’t know”, to which the cat concludes “Then it doesn’t matter which road you take”.

Alice: “Which road should I take?”. 
Cheshire Cat: “Where are you going?”
Alice: “I don’t know”
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which road you take”

~ Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland

So, the first step is to know “Where are you going”?  Now, although this sounds quite easy, we can get confused.  

Kodak got confused.  They thought that they were in the physical photo production business when in truth they were in the memories business.  They had a massive investment in the photographic industry and at their height, they were the main player.  They even invented the digital camera, and yet they patented the process and kept it hidden from sight.  The rest is of course history; digital cameras are here to stay, and Kodak isn’t.  They lost sight of or misunderstood, their destination.  They remained on the journey using the M40.

In a previous blog entitled “Find your phoenix” I shared the story from the film of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission where the Mission Commander was being inundated with reports of equipment failures when he instructed his staff to “stop telling me what’s NOT working and start telling me what IS working” (my paraphrase).

“Stop telling me what’s NOT working and start telling me what IS working.”

~ Apollo 13 Mission Commander (my paraphrase)

Rather than focusing on why the M40 is showing a delay, or where the accident is located, whether the emergency services are on the scene and when the motorway will be re-opened, we need to be focusing on what IS working.  The M6/M5/M4 is working, the M1 is working.  In uncertain times like these, first, we need to understand where we’re going, and then focus on what IS working.  

Understand where you’re going, then focus on what IS working.  

Studies have shown that most people feel less stress with bad news than with uncertainty.  US General George Patton was in command of the U.S. Seventh Army during the Second World War, and he understood that well when he said: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week”.  He knew that they had to get on with the job, and they didn’t have the luxury of being able to wait for perfect foresight.  They only knew what they knew.  

As a leader, it’s our job to create some certainty and direction in the midst of all the uncertainty that the current disruption has brought.  What do we know that IS working?

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

~ George S. Patton

I am currently chair of the board of directors at an events management company.  We do events.  Well, until the start of this year we did physical events.  Earlier this year we made the decision to go Digital First.  We recognised that the value of physical events had changed, significantly.  We recognised that it was uncertain when physical events would be able to resume, that when they did the format of these meetings is still uncertain.

Perhaps most importantly we recognised that the stock value of a physical event had just risen significantly.  Just like the stock value of water in a torrential downpour of abundance is low, and the stock value of limited water supplies in a drought is really high, the stock value of physical meetings has just risen significantly.  People will want to reserve this limited, valuable commodity for family events, for the celebrations of family births, birthdays, weddings and funerals.  

The stock value of physical meetings has risen significantly.  People want to reserve this limited, valuable commodity for family events.

So how did we respond?  We decided to focus on what we know IS working.  We made the decision that for this year at least we would go Digital First.  All of our events would be advertised and designed to be consumed in a digital format first so that people could attend without having to use up their limited ration of physical meetings allowance.  

Finally, be authentic.  We can’t know everything about a future that has so much uncertainty.  We’ll need to make decisions, and we’ll inevitably get some wrong.  People will expect that, and people will see that, so don’t try to hide it or spin it so that it looks right.  Own your good decisions and own your bad decisions, and you’ll earn people’s respect.  After all, people would rather follow a leader who is always authentic, than a leader who is ‘never wrong‘.

“Stop telling me what’s NOT working and start telling me what IS working.”

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

“People would rather follow a leader who is always authentic, than a leader who is ‘never wrong’.”

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.