Thinking differently: Leading your team and brand in a crisis

Here we are in the last week of August 2020 and we don’t know where we are headed isn’t it?

Even though global lockdown is now being relaxed, businesses are now starting to re-open, holiday goers planning their summer trips and life is moving ahead albeit at a pace which probably none of us understand and yet it is very clear that we are in a Global crisis where we are being asked to step it up quickly each day. 

The UK has been reeling under a spate of brands that are going under, and more than 500,000 + job cuts across various sectors is driving a different kind of fear that seems to have several seismic challenges unfolding very fast.

British, Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Easy Jet, Ryan Air, Heathrow Airport, Centrica, Ovo Energy, BP, AirBus, Bombardier, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover, HSBC, G4S, Accenture, The Restaurant Group, Monsoon Accessorize, John Lewis, Clarks, Oasis & Warehouse, Mulberry, TMLewin, Boots, Burger King, Travis Perkins, SSP Group, BBC, WH Smith, Evening Standard to name a few have already announced reductions to their workforce to reshape their businesses in the coming few months. 

Unemployment across Europe has risen due to the coronavirus pandemic with airline companies and the automobile sector making some of the biggest job cuts. About 400,000 people in the European Union lost their jobs in April, according to data from the EU’s stats agency, released in June.

Many people have lost their jobs or seen their incomes cut due to this coronavirus crisis. Unemployment rates have increased across major global economies as a result. And at the other end of the spectrum there is a massive spike in a few brands going big with their E-commerce growth and wanting more hands on deck to support their businesses; so as in the real world- this disparity continues. 

Big economies like India, China, USA are all reeling on the brink of recession and coming out of this will not just be a slow process but a process where leadership comes into play- not just in a socio-economic, political sense or even corporate leadership but Leadership in Life itself..where everyone are now being asked to lead in one way or another. 

Business/Brand owners have been forced to respond differently ever since customers were forced to behave differently with customer journeys being disrupted all over and working practices being turned on their head. But it’s important to understand here that customer behaviour has been dynamically changing since the last few years and the flow of direct to consumer marketing strategies have been fueling brands to not just address but actually reshape their ethos and the style of leadership that lead brands all over.

It’s very easy to label something and tag it the ‘new normal’ instead of pondering on the veritable fact that these so called new consumer behaviours had been changing anyways and have merely been catalysed by the pandemic. Yes no doubt it has challenged everything that we had taken for granted so far- and most of us are now collectively trying to figure how we can build more engagement and a truer connection not just with brands and consumers but with our own selves, in our relationships, in our societies and communities etc.

One can very well debate and say – the pandemic has created a seminal moment in history although if we dig deeper we can sense that something had been brewing for a long long time in our lives- something that was begging for attention in ways more than one- that was asking of us to Stop, Ponder, Reflect and Redefine everything- not just brands and consumerism but the way we live itself.

The band-aids that we have been so adept as a humanity to keep on putting over and over instead of addressing the true lies are being ripped off and whilst most might even feel more stubborn to try and re-enact their lives the way it was- the discomfort we feel within ourselves and outside is real, palpable and perhaps for the first time in a long time  it’s in our collective faces! 

So what are we going to do? these What sort of leadership is required of us?

In moments of crisis true leadership is about how quick the response and how vastly considerate at the same time- considerate of everyone and not just the few that leadership seems to have mostly served over the past decades. 

It has been very evident that- our leaderships- both political and corporate in most instances have been beyond challenged to actually be able to make those decisions that support everyone to feel the steadiness and the reassurance that people are asking for. Fast evolving situations such as the current one has brought out both the worst and the best and this is where we need to understand that leadership specially corporate leadership is not about getting brands to survive or hit the reset button or even product renovation but actually see that this is the opportunity to bring in authenticity, transparency and honesty thus making these terms the brand ambassadors that reflect the ethos. 

It’s not about knowledge but about Wisdom.

I call this ‘deep diving leadership’ and it’s really not a fancy term but a simple understanding of the fact that leadership is about leading with wisdom- be it brands, societies, or nations. It’s about reflecting values and standards- your own- in your own life- in your relationships; and then the values of your company- your people that work for the company and the external audiences all at the same time. 

It’s like one gigantic spherical wave that keeps on moving endlessly and expanding the more we learn to hold ourselves in those standards.

Those who aren’t afraid to communicate with honesty and integrity are the ones who can get mostly everyone to be on the same page- be it internally with partners, employees, management or externally with customers, investors and the media. The ability to be able to handle anything that comes at them even if all might not go right is still far more reflective of a truth rather than false bravado or deceit that plagues leadership in most scenarios.

Nothing is a failure for true blue leaders- as they have the ability to hit the trail of the unknown and trust the journey of getting to where it’s needed. 

Their innate wisdom is their trail map, their inner core value is their compass and their guiding light is the trust and transparency that they reflect along the way…

So here we go- My top list of leadership values that I keep taking inspiration from in turbulent times and at all times…

1- Transparency is Transformational! 

It’s cool to let your team know that you as a leader do not have all the answers. That you are equally vulnerable to pressures just like everyone else. Leadership is more about teamwork rather than the pressure of it all as one man’s burden to carry. Being Transparent at all times is actually revitalising not just for employees but also for the brand’s image as it fosters a deeper understanding with its customers. Transparency in relationships- personal/professional builds a strong foundation that has the potency to transform any situation. This is my very first foundational stone- Being transparent at all times is the norm rather than a rule and it has supported me in building long term and beautifully trusting relationships over time. 

2- Adaptability

The ability to adapt in fast moving environments in accordance with what’s needed with focus instead of rushed strategies is another value that I love to roll with. This means having the space to take stock and ponder consistently so that when a crisis hits- one is prepared to respond rather than react. Constant communication with one’s team internally, with customers externally supports putting a crisis situation in perspective. In the past in my stubbornness I would dig my heels and not be willing to adapt and most might think adaptability is about compromising but it’s not in the true sense. 

Now when I have seen the power of adaptability I love it. I love what it brings to not just me but everyone and everything around me- a whole new dimension of understanding and focus that can actually front foot any crisis.

3- Caring

A caring leadership/management reflects on the ethos of the company. This not only sends out a strong signal to its customers but also motivates its internal team to pull together when needed, stay consistent and not let the ball drop. How does a company care for its own people- for example- have there been counsellors in place during the lockdown for those unable to deal with working from home? Acknowledging to one’s customers- for example if you are a wellbeing facility that has had to close temporarily- letting clients know what you are planning to do and showing that their health is your top priority is caring. 

The ability to care for your vendors, partners, customers, employees not just verbally but actually caring for their wellbeing is a holistic approach that brings perspectives and people together. Whilst this might seem or sound like a loft ideal- it can actually be put into practice. 

I have always been a caring sort of person but in recent years my ability to be caring has expanded into a proper mega style of living and working as my regular everyday standard.

4- Equanimity

This is a quality that I love – it’s like my steady point and if I fall below this point then I know something is amiss. Putting it simply- establishing standards in any organisation starting first with oneself as a leader brings a certain flow to one’s life both personal and professional.  Also harmonious relationships with everyone in a company standardises that flow and catalyses every single individual to come into his/her own to act as a leader with a willingness to go the distance.

5- Directness

More often than not directness can be mistaken for arrogance and mostly it does come laced with arrogance. But in its true version- Directness means exposing the false structures internally and externally- whether within oneself or within a company/organization etc. It has been a journey for me personally to actually discard the false arrogance that I used as a shield often in both my professional and personal life when I felt something was false but I didn’t quite have that ability to bring forth the Truth without a genuine understanding and compassion of taking each and every factor into account. 

And now my own willingness to stay consistent, steady and bringing the above 4 values has strengthened the ability to be direct thus bringing a level of Truth that can quickly deconstruct the false inner workings whether it’s in a team that I work with, the clients that we bring value to or the relationships that I enjoy. Directness cuts through the comforts and fires growth and evolution and ultimately that’s the name of the game isnt it!? 

True leaders make lives enriching for everyone around them and not just a select few, not just their own flock. Their inner dynamism and commitment to stay close to these values I have spoken about is the harbinger of change when we need it the most- NOW! 

So whilst some brands have lost businesses, some have been forced to shelve plans, others having to remodel their entire structure, some are asking what they do and why, countries reeling under a socio-economic meltdown- the veritable fact is that it’s not about losing or gaining but about an unfolding of a way of how we are meant to do life, to do business and in that I am sure we will forge ahead together. 

Here’s to leadership with Purpose!

Our brand founder and author of this blog Chetan Jha is leading not just change but also innovation across the board through best practises that echo compassion understanding and reflection. To know more, email us: [email protected] 

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