This is the no 1 leadership challenge right now

The COVID-19 outbreak quickly changed the reality for people all around the world. The speed by which the virus spread, led to governments around the world deploying different strategies to stop or at least slow down the virus spreading.

For leaders all around the world, this has introduced new challenges, whether that would be a complete shutdown of businesses to people being required to work from home.

When we asked 104 leaders from around the world what they found the most challenging in their role during this pandemic, they said:

Balancing the short term crisis with the long term strategy

Almost two thirds (64.4%) responded that this is their no 1 leadership challenge right now.

Let’s break down this challenge and look at the two competing focus areas, before diving into some solutions:

The short term crisis

There have been (and continue to be) many short term issues that have had to be resolved; setting up teams for remote working, furloughing employees, dealing with the stress and uncertainty for team members, reassuring customers, taking care of business property and many more.

The short term issues tend to be something that can bring people together, rallying the forces to overcome the obstacles – it can boost morale and deepen the team spirit. It also tends to be practical and tangible and therefore relatively straightforward to get on with.

It allows people to focus on one thing, the next steps, giving them a sense of control and progress.

The long term strategy

Any focus on the long term on the other hand, is often put on the back-burner, which is of course perfectly understandable (you wouldn’t stop and take a phone call if the house was on fire – you’d put out the fire).

At the same time the long-term gives you direction and when focusing on it, pulls you towards it.  It gives a sense of purpose and it brings order to chaos. And it can give greater meaning to the actions and reactions of short-term crisis.

When we focus on the long term strategy, we are having the foresight to do what’s needed now to deliver in the future.

Someone is sitting under a tree today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

Warren Buffett

Solutions for how to balance the two

Here’s some food for thought, some practical ideas for how to balance the short term crisis with the long term strategy:

  1. Make a risk assessment – what will happen if you don’t balance the two as needed? Be honest with yourself, and create a plan forward based on your assessment.
  2. Realign roles and responsibilities. Assess what you and your team need to spend your time on and re-plan your time accordingly. Consider for example whether some will focus on the crisis management while some will focus on the long term strategy. Or should everyone do a bit of both?
  3. Block time in your own calendar each week for a strategic review. If you don’t do this it’s easy that ‘putting out fires’ take up all your time – and almost becomes your ‘reason for being’, which adds further focus on ‘firefighting’.
  4. Talk to your team about the long-term strategy. Intentionally bring it into the conversations you are already having, for a sense of purpose, direction and sense-meaning. Clearly link it to what the team is doing now.
  5. Develop and use your systems (strategy) thinking so that you can talk to your team about how the crisis and the long term interact and how decisions now impact the strategy.
  6. Talk with your leadership peers and your leader about how to get the balance right. Decide on approach and how to hold each other accountable, recognizing that you are role models for how the organisation will deal with this.
  7. Explore if the long-term strategy may be changing as a result of the crisis. And consider how that may impact your approach.
  8. Recognise when people get the balance right by highlighting it to others, hence encouraging others to do the same.
  9. Remember that you are a role model in this – your team will mimic what you do. So, ask yourself – how are you balancing the short-term crisis and the long-term strategy at the moment? What else do you need to do?

It would be really interesting to hear what you think – what are you doing to balance the two? What has worked for you?

Author: Mandy and Elisabet

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