Key Lessons Learned as a CEO from Past Eight Months
Timing is everything. Just three months into 2020 and all of us were faced with an unprecedented pandemic. Fast forward to 8 months hence, the overarching theme has that been of uncertainty. Such periods of uncertainty accompanied by fear, have tested companies and individuals alike. Many current leaders including me have never led through such a crisis. However I strongly believe that applying the business acumen acquired during our careers will help us come out stronger, making our business models more nimble and agile.
Being at the helm of India’s largest themed, outdoor entertainment and family holiday destination gearing for peak business period; the pandemic threw a dent in an otherwise well planned season. So, I drew on the lessons learned during my career to seek control in an out-of-control world.
Demonstrating Effective Leadership in ‘A Challenging Environment’
When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where the power is.
Irrespective of size, businesses need to foresee where it can be several months down the line. Comprehensive plans encompass consumer and market dynamics, industry advocacy, cash-flow forecasting, operational efficiency, employee management, and all worst-case scenario assessments. Weighing all options, decisions with the purview of having the ability to focus now and later was an important realization.
Managing and leading during the crisis; supporting all team members, partners, and customers are established indicators of ‘Effective Leadership’. But those who communicate effectively and act decisively in the toughest of times are ‘True Leaders’.
In this case, informal communication worked best. Constantly engaging with stakeholders, calibrating expectations is essential too even though one may fall short of expectations.
Unfiltered leadership and keeping the line-of-communication open both ways i.e. top-down and bottom-up while maintaining transparency across the board allowed room for building trust with internal and external stakeholders. The situation volatility demanded that everyone be abreast of all key developments at regular intervals.
Identifying Challenges and Mitigating Risk Quickly
This pandemic has truly posed an once-in-a-lifetime challenge to all business leaders. Under normal circumstances; seasonal businesses come associated with their own set of challenges. The pandemic has only added to it.
HR, Manpower, Operations, Financial, IT, Sales, and Marketing – no business division was left untouched by the pandemic.
Every associated challenge needed to be addressed individually.
Safeguarding employee interest was paramount and topped my list of priorities. With so much uncertainty looming, cash efficiency has arguably never been more critical due to the highly volatile economy. Essentially, it differentiates between survival and disaster. First step was to identify all areas that were cost-intensive and arrive at workable solutions around it. Next was to allocate costs where necessary, minimize payables, ask for a moratorium period from stakeholders, innovating newer revenue means and determine alternate sources of capital in absence of existing revenue streams.
What helped was not lose hope and sight and focus on how the business could sustain, grow, and thrive in a new environment alongside appraising, formulating, digital routes.
Crisis tests the best of us on our emotional quotient, strategic agility, resourcefulness, and on prioritising what matters the most.
In these unprecedented and challenging times, to err is only human. And, maybe I did. But it has only helped challenge my inner self, grow personally and, learn from it.
Couple Nimble Strategic Decisions with Forward Thinking Approach
Patchwork can be very detrimental, having long term repercussions. Having never faced such situation, enforced me to Introspect, Rethink, Reinvent and Rebuild the typical operations and management style; challenge status quo, breakaway from comfort, and work with people.
Thinking on one’s feet was literally put into action.
Weighing awareness to activation strategies, opting for digital outreach, cash-flow management, taking tough strategic decisions, seizing opportunities, scaling products and services has been monumental from business sustenance viewpoint. Simultaneously eliminating obsolete systems, practices, or technology and replacing them with innovative solutions have been integral to driving the business forward in such touch circumstances.
During this process, the key marketing lesson learned was whether we appeal to the head, heart, or wallet. Well, the simple yet complicated answer is to communicate emotionally but effectively by being sentimental at the same time be smart.
Apart from that, it’s okay to share control and rely on the support team’s decision-making skills; thereby easily scaling productivity and efficiency throughout organizational levels.
Unfiltered leadership and keeping the line-of-communication open both ways i.e. top-down and bottom-up while maintaining transparency across the board allowed room for building trust with internal and external stakeholders
One may also say in business there’s little or no place for emotion. But like many business leaders, my emotional quotient was put to the ultimate test when decisions related to compacting roles had to be undertaken.
Importance of ‘Having a Contingency Plan’
From here on, Sanguine CEOs or Business Leaders want to be prepared for the adversity of any measure. Simply put, this pandemic has taught me a big lesson and prepared me for the future. Well defined contingency plans with what-if scenarios will become an important feature of all annual and quarterly business planning and projections within my organization. This will hold true for most business leaders too as it will help us stay a step ahead when hit by a similar curveball, next time around.
Nothing is set in stone. As business leaders, we will have to remain light on our feet and open to change to steer our respective organizations in the right direction. One outcome is certain that organizations will emerge more resilient while business leaders will be moulded such to forge a path of excellence.