In the past month, our team has engaged over 200 CEOs and board-level leaders from around the world. We have delivered many virtual individual, team and conference sessions on the topic of handling the COVID-19 crisis and helping leaders use the Nine Habits of Trust model to step up to the new challenges. It has been fascinating to listen to leaders from the US, Hungary, South Africa, Kenya, Dubai, Singapore and China representing a broad range of sectors, including NHS leaders, premiership football clubs, banks, manufacturers, technology companies, food distributors and charities. We have built a rich expertise in what is working, what is not working and the latest trends in this cycle of crisis management. In this blog, I will update our earlier Nine Habits checklist to give you an up to date snapshot of our latest thinking:-
Deliver – doing the right thing, but for who?
The first instinct of most leaders was to do the right thing for their customers. Their second instinct was to do the right thing for their staff. We are now at the stage where leaders need to do the right thing for the business. Re-set the business plan. Get back to basics Grow the revenue. Having secured the present, we now need to protect the future.
Coach – a time to listen, a time to ask
Rightly, the priority in a crisis is to put out the fire. That is not a time for listening or asking questions; it is a time to point at the fire exits and tell people what to do. Shut the offices. Furlough the staff. Chair your daily Cobra meeting. Leaders now need to judge when to start listening again, when to start asking questions and empowering others to take the wheel. Leaders need to make sure they do not revert to a ‘command and control’ comfort zone.
Be Consistent – trust arrives on foot, it leaves on horseback
Leaders are under stress. Stress is often the precursor to a trust crisis because our behaviour becomes unpredictable and contrary to our core values. Unfortunately, one bad days destroys a hundred good days when it comes to trust. Be careful that you are getting the help you need to put on your own ‘oxygen mask’ at this time so you can manage your stress levels and remain consistent.
Be Honest – sugar-coating a bitter pill doesn’t work
Like many leaders, one of our board-level clients has taken a pay cut. In this case, a 30% pay cut for 10 months. They do not object to the pay cut, but they objected to the way it was implemented. Rather than an honest, direct request, this leader felt they were emotionally manipulated into volunteering for the pay cut. The pill was sugar-coated, but honesty was sacrificed along the way.
Be Open – don’t be the invincible, uber-optimistic alien being
In one of our team coaching calls, the CEO adopted a Churchillian ‘fight them on the beaches’ tone with his team. He urged everyone to pursue victory, whatever the sacrifices involved. We noticed a virtual ‘roll of the eyes’ from the rest of the team who were likely thinking ‘here we go again’. Remember, before.you were a CEO you were a.human being. Now is a time where showing a little vulnerability goes a long, long way with anxious, socially-distanced staff.
Be Humble – keep a little white book, not a little black one
‘I’m keeping a little black book and when this is all over, I’ll make sure I get even’ declared one Director. There was a sharp virtual intake of breath on the call. ‘Have you thought about keeping a little white book instead?’ piped up one of his colleagues. It’s a critical choice. If you’re staying humble in these anxious times, then the little white book is a trust-building mindset. Catch people doing things right. Bite your lip when they get it wrong.
Evangelise – launch your project ‘silver lining’
We have a client CEO who has established a ‘silver linings’ project team. Amidst the difficult struggles in the core business, this CEO has ring-fenced a small group of evangelists whose job is to look into the future and find new opportunities. These evangelists are looking for the hidden treasures in the darkness. Where are your hidden treasures? Have you launched a ‘silver linings’ project?
Be Brave – wear the white belt
The white belt is the most junior ranking in martial arts. All of us are white belts when it comes to responding to this crisis because none of us has been through it before. None of us are experts. All of us are learners. It takes bravery to take that first step to learn a virtual working skill, to re-invent your broken business model and to experiment with new revenue-generating schemes. Fortune has always favoured the brave ones. The ones who are willing to take the first step first.
Be Kind – all it takes is one drop
My 24-year old son ran into the kitchen last week gleefully shouting, ‘I don’t believe it, my CEO and CFO are not going to take any salary or bonus for six months to make sure there will be no redundancies in our company’. Wow. That is brave and it is also kind. You could tell that, in one moment, their generous act had shifted the whole atmosphere in the business. Theirs was a big gesture, but even the smallest act of kindness can trigger the same shift. All it takes is one drop. What is your next random act of kindness?
I hope you have taken some inspiration from our updated Nine Habits checklist. We will keep bringing you our latest thoughts as we move through this crisis. If you are a believer in the power of trust, we are holding regular public events to share more insights and create valuable peer group networking opportunities for like-minded leaders. If you would value an invite to our next private CEO gathering (places limited to 15), please contact us via the website contact form. Best wishes from the team at The Trusted Executive Foundation. Keep building the trust and stay safe.
For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video.