During a crisis, the bar is set high for leaders. They are told to chart a path forward for others, stay calm, be confident, show resilience – and the list goes on. Yet it can be difficult for leaders to exhibit these types of behaviors given the extreme impact a crisis can have on their lives, businesses, and communities around them. During these times, an organization’s mission, vision and values can be powerful in providing direction and focus, while guiding leaders in how to adapt short-term.
History shows us how past leaders have successfully navigated turbulent waters and gotten back on track to achieving their vision. For example, Mark Conklin, a leader for JW Marriott Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak, led with the mantra: “When your values are clear, your decisions are easy.” With all business and schools closed, the outlook for the city was grim. Hong Kong had become a virtual ghost town. However, Mark kept his team focused, advising them to think like owners in regards to their long-term vision and to use values to guide short-term decisions. Through it all, he leveraged creativity, empathy and humility, adjusting his short-term mission to ensure employees’ needs were cared for. As a result, his team emerged from the crisis victorious and stronger than ever before. His example, among many others, shows the power of vision, mission, and values during crisis.
An effective vision statement is inspirational and forward-looking (typically a 3- to 5-year time frame), and it paints a picture of how the future will look, both in terms of the impact on those the organization serves and employees’ part in achieving that vision. Done well, it helps to provide employees with a sense of purpose, hope, and connectedness to their leaders and organization.
Right now, the path to achieve that vision may not be completely clear, as businesses all over the world are experiencing detours and challenging roadblocks. Successful leaders have shown us that communicating often and openly about these obstacles is important. These leaders have also demonstrated the importance of entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity when working towards their vision. As Steve Jobs said: “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
During a crisis, there can also be a tendency for organizations to pull back on investments that prepare for the future and purely focus on day-to-day execution. However, that approach has proven detrimental for many. In fact, studies have shown that companies who invest in leadership development and selection during a crisis recover more quickly and experience greater profit growth post-crisis. We encourage all leaders to reflect on what they can do to promote growth for themselves and their organization during this time, while staying true to the emergent needs of both employees and customers.
“No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities – always see them, for they’re always there.”
— Norman Vincent Peale
An organization’s mission statement describes why an organization exists in terms of their function and impact on the external community. Though the saying “Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you always get” usually holds true, following this guidance now could be detrimental to your future success. These times call for leaders to demonstrate curiosity, creativity, and adaptability to adjust their mission.
Through the current crisis, many organizations are reflecting on their mission and determining how to shift their current focus in order to get back on track to the longer term. Javier Quiñones, IKEA Retail U.S. President, shared in a recent press release, “Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures…we recognize the positive impact our actions could have on making life better for the millions of people who have been impacted by this crisis.” This statement prefaced an open letter from Quiñones explaining that IKEA’s choice to close all stores and temporarily shift its business entirely towards e-commerce is not in the name of corporate profit, but so that it can continue to take care of its employees. It is the short-term actions and decisions made around companies’ missions that will allow the economy to get back on track, as explained in a recent interview with Nobel Prize-winner Paul Romer. In this vein, companies such as Apple are producing millions of face masks, and food producers, such as Nestle and PepsiCo, have donated millions of dollars’ worth of product around the world. This article from the World Economic Forum highlights many of these current shifts of mission, as well as calls to action by CEOs for others to shift theirs as well, in order to maximize the impact of each organization in the face of the current crisis.
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
— Jimmy Dean
Crises provide a window into a person’s values and character. The question is, “How would others describe what they see through your window?” Would they see a leader who demonstrates humility and empathy for employees’ needs, or someone focused on his or her own self-interests and determined to forge forward with a personal agenda at all costs?
When determining your actions and decisions in these times, values serve as a compass for how to operate. If you have not had a chance to document your guiding values, now may be the perfect time to reflect and chart them, both on an individual and organizational level. Keeping our values within view can also increase our awareness of when our leadership derailers begin to emerge, and help us to proactively manage them when under pressure. If a leader preaches values such as transparency, empathy, and humility, but then their actions contradict these values, irreconcilable long-term damage to their credibility can result.
The choices we make now will not only impact our own future, but the success of our organizations and communities we serve. If we look to our vision as a beacon and adjust the sails of our mission to weather the storm, we will set ourselves up to be optimal leaders on this journey to global recovery.
“The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis.”
— Brian Tracy