THE WORLD CONVULSED: WHERE DID THE PANDEMIC FIND YOU?
Updated: Jul 28
"Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." – Warren Buffet
Time and time again experts have exhorted organizations to prepare for a crisis. And yet despite the concurring rhetoric of many senior leaders and executives, including Boards, not many companies really go through the rigor of training, preparing, and practicing for a crisis.
Until it happens. And then almost everyone is caught off-guard, and left scrambling, if not paralyzed, for what to do next.
First, let us define a crisis. The pandemic that has changed our lives is just one example. You would guess what the others are: natural disasters, mismanagement, romantic scandals, data breaches, cybercrime, labor disputes, etc. The list is endless.
A crisis can happen on any front and on any level of our lives – be it on the personal individual level, family, career, community, country, or even to the whole of mankind in general – as we are experiencing now.
WHAT THEN IS A CRISIS?
A crisis is any event that has the capacity to disrupt the normal course of things. It can be sudden and unexpected, or it could have smouldered or developed over time. The latter is a case of you knowing it was coming; you just did not know when.
There are many definitions, but my favorite is this: A crisis is a show-stopping, people-stopping, product-stopping, reputation-defining and trust-busting event.
You may have often heard that in Chinese, the way they write the word CRISIS is composed of two characters signifying danger on the one hand, and opportunity on the other.
It is because the outcome of any crisis will change you, for better or for worse.
V-U-C-A AMPLIFIED A THOUSAND TIMES
Many characteristics define a crisis. However, the most prominent of them are encapsulated in a short abbreviation commonly used in military circles. It is called VUCA and we saw the following amplified during this pandemic:
V -Volatility – The rate of change is simply so quick, unpredictable, and mind-boggling.
U -Uncertainty – There are just so many things that are unclear.
C -Complexity – There are so many moving parts and multiple decision factors that are interdependent on each other.
A -Ambiguity – There is lack of meaning. You cannot make sense of what is happening. You cannot connect the dots.
“Unprecedented” is an adjective we keep on hearing these days. You and your organization have never experienced anything like it before.
HOW CRISIS-READY WERE YOU?
As I write this, almost six months have passed since the WHO declared a pandemic and our lives were upended.
The time of reckoning has also passed, and the crisis could only have caught you right where you were situated. Have you had time to reflect? Or have you been judged already and found wanting? How I wish more companies, rather than few, can rightfully claim they were somehow prepared – if not totally prepared - for the health and economic crisis that befell us.
What is quite unique about this pandemic is that it was not a solitary crisis borne by just one organization. In a sense, it was comforting in a weird way. It was not our company alone in the spotlight to make sense of what was happening in a blur all around. We were not facing hostile questioning from the media. We were not the subject of negative publicity.
We were in the crisis together with the rest of the world, and we can derive some comfort in that. We were all in the same ocean, so to speak, we just happened to be on different boats. Was yours sturdy enough to withstand the currents that came, some of which felt like tidal waves? In what forms did those currents show themselves to you?
How prepared were you? When the lockdown was announced, effectively closing the metro with a notice of just three days, did you have the systems in place that simply needed an activation to ensure your continuous operations? Did you have the slightest semblance of a work-from-home arrangement ready to be implemented at a moment’s notice? Did you have a call tree in place to check on the conditions of your people? These are just few of the questions I know you all had to grapple with at the beginning hours of this pandemic.
How did it feel? Were you left reeling? Were you able to sleep at night? And, sadly, I am not even bringing to the picture yet the economic or financial fallout that all of us must contend with.
I ask these important questions because, if you haven’t yet, this time is as good as any to look internally and reflect on what you need to do right now, not later, but now, to rise from the ashes and emerge from this better, stronger, and – God forbid – ready for any next crisis.
For easy memory recall, I would like to use VUCA also to address the first VUCA above.
1) V for VOICE
Raise your independent and courageous VOICE with conviction.
Always speak your truth. Speak truth to power. What does it mean to speak truth to power?
Do not be intimidated by titles or positions, not even and not especially by the Chairman or President, as the case may be. Leadership is not about popularity. It is not about the rank. It is not about the corner office.
All of us, all of you, can be leaders. Because all of you can exert influence over the people around you.
And that is why they say in the corporate setting, you lead up, you lead across, and you lead down. You lead up to influence your bosses and those above you, you lead across to influence those who are at the same level as you, and then you lead down to influence those who are below you – your subordinates.
So, do not be intimidated if you are talking to the CEO, or the Head of Legal, or the Head of HR, or the Head of Information Technology, or the Board of Directors, or your Chair.
All these people have something to learn from you. In fact, you were hired because of your potential. Show them that potential by speaking up, speaking out and speaking with conviction.
It is the brave who shine and who prosper, who stand out. It is the brave whom we need in situations like this. Do you know that almost 70% of corporate crises arise because people who should have spoken out and called out their superiors did not do what they should have done.
But remember that for you to do this, you need to be obsessive, you need to be obsessed – obsessive and obsessed about finding out what is true, what is right, what is correct. What works. What solves the problem.
Only then will you earn the right to voice out your voice. Good leaders do what is right, not what is easy. The corporate world is not for the timid.
On the other end, do not be swayed by the crowd. Be a spreader of enlightenment. Do not worsen things by bringing fake or false information. Do not agree just because everyone is agreeing. Do not object just because everyone is objecting. Do not protest just because everyone is protesting.
Make sure that your action is defined by what you really believe is true, in principle and in your heart. Fight for something because it is the conclusion you have reached after careful study and research, after engagement with all concerned parties.
2) U for UNFLAPPABLE
Be unflappable. Unflappable means not easily upset or confused, especially in crisis. It is that which cannot be disturbed, that which cannot be rattled, that which cannot be distressed no matter what is happening around.
This is grace under pressure. This is equilibrium. To maintain one’s senses despite the panic or pandemonium.
There is usually one thing that gives rise to confusion. And that is FEAR. It is all right to be afraid. But you need to pause and not let that fear hinder you from accomplishing your goals.
What makes you unflappable? It is the combination of right skills, right knowledge, right attitude, the right values, the right intention. Because when you have these, you become reliable in the eyes of many. And when you are reliable, you gain confidence, you know you’re doing your best every single time that even if you commit mistakes along the way, as we all do, those mistakes are just your steps to even more success.
3) C for CARE
Care about people as if it is all that matters. Because, frankly, and ultimately, it is all that matters. People. Lives. This pandemic crisis has proven that. To heck with the economy, to heck with profits. Governments and organizations needed to prioritize people above all. Or else the loss would have been incalculable.
After all, business is all about relationships. All about the conversations. All about service.
Recognize the power of human connection, of building high-trust relationships, and of connecting with people. Break bread with them. How do you break bread? You become interested. You remember the little things.
I heard a mentor say, "Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love, keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more."
And then you bring up these details that you remember at appropriate times to show genuine concern and sincerity. In moments of truth, in crux times, show you are real. Show that all those words you said were genuinely felt, not merely said for the sake of creating small talk.
Prove that all your gestures of concern are real. In any crisis, people should come first. First, I repeat! Not second, not third, and certainly not last. Attend to people’s needs first. Initially, your employees and staff, then your customers.
Human connection is important at any time, but especially during a crisis. It is how you gather information. It is how you solve problems. Before someone will lend you a hand, you need to touch their hearts. By doing good for your people, they, in turn, will do good for your customers. Celebrate and champion people!
Make people feel important and special. Treat people well.
4) A for ASK
Ask questions and annihilate arrogance. Be confident but do not cross the line to the land of arrogance.
Practice humility by asking questions, by admitting you do not know everything. That is how you will think better and execute better.
Be confident enough to say that wherever and whenever you show up, you are the key. If you are there, your team will win. Your organization will win.
However, remain humble. Admit it when you do not have all the answers. Cry out if you are drowning with tasks and you need help. Many are willing to give it for free.
Ask questions. That is how you learn. Ask to be mentored. Or just look for role models. That is how you get transformed.
Our job is to improve, to get better, to drive faster. Be on a mission to get on that next level. A favorite mentor of mine, Robin Sharma, advises: “Work on your strengths to get better. Work on your weaknesses. Master the fundamentals. Have a good vision. Make sure your mindset is right. Make sure you know how to operate in a team. Guard your work ethics. Be accountable. Own your situation.” Eliminate excuses or what we call EXCUSITIS.
Still according to Sharma, if you get just 1% better every single day, in 5 months you will not recognize yourself. In 5 years, you will not recognize your bank account, your career, your organization.
In other words, you will have become better, bigger, stronger.
THRIVE! DO NOT SIMPLY SURVIVE!
In conclusion, there is a world of difference between surviving and thriving.
To survive means to continue to live or exist, especially in the face of hardship or danger. It is a passive condition and a passive response. You continue to live or exist either by sheer luck or by doing the minimum requirements to secure your pass on this earth. In other words, those who only survive remain the same after a crisis.
Meanwhile, to thrive means “to prosper, to be successful and fruitful, to grow and develop vigorously, to flourish.” Despite the hardship and the danger. Or even more importantly, BECAUSE of the hardship and the danger.
In other words, a crisis tests your mettle, brings out the best or the worst in you, shows what you are really made of inside. Because when there is an extreme adversity, you cannot respond normally. You need to give what the situation calls for PLUS SO MUCH MORE, so that after the crisis has died down, you will have become a better and stronger person. Or a better and stronger organization.
*Gina dela Vega-Cruz is a consultant and subject matter expert on Crisis Communications and Management, Leadership, Public Speaking and Presentation Skills, and Media Training. Gina is also a professional speaker, trainer, and executive coach on the same subjects. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/ginadelavegacruz/.