Covid-19: A Career Defining Pandemic

Chief Executive Officer

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There is no leader today, no CEO, actually no one, who does not say that the past two-plus months have been unprecedented. Never have we seen such disruption to economies and chaos to life. About nine weeks ago, markets saw their lows…and just four weeks before that, markets experienced their all time highs. That in itself is a whiplash of unequalled proportion.

Everyone suggests a new normal, a new world is emerging. Unanticipated and universal change is the new normal. Mother Nature, thru a virulent virus, has shut us down. We can’t out-think her, but we must think about how to deal with what we’ve been dealt—to respond positively, rapidly and innovatively. You might say that Mother Nature has given us a challenge of immense biologic, physiologic, psychologic,  immunologic and genetic proportion. It will take the sciences to get us safely to the right side of an abnormal normal, the new way of things.

I’ve heard CEOs say, “We have a playbook for these events.” But you don’t. The playbook for this never-equaled crisis has not been written; it is being written word by word, chapter by chapter as we live through this time. A cookbook solution for a certain “expected but hope it never happens” crisis might exist, but if we truly believe these are never-before-experienced times, then pulling that old playbook off the shelf, dusting it off and following its outline and time schedule just will not work. Practically nothing from our pre-Covid emergency response armamentarium will work perfectly, and certainly not traditional research that delves into past behaviors, wants, patterns, needs, beliefs, ethos. I’d like to suggest that there is no easy road to recovery, no pertinent previously followed “secrets of success.” Just big thinking, new planning, changed views, agility and forward-focused strategies.

Covid-19 is a novel virus and has necessitated all new clinical management approaches and treatment strategies, and has caused our health system leaders to re-fashion their work, re-challenge themselves, ask more of their people and develop intra-pandemic health strategies and care models that were not even thought of pre-pandemic, just nine weeks ago. No previous playbook. Thinking on the run, literally! Infected patients in and out of the hospital are being managed differently through separate life-sustaining measures. There’s much to learn from this.

This basically is true of business. Our businesses are our patients now. New strategies are required to recalibrate our companies. New dimensions of leadership are necessary in our new world. Our people must be first. In a world where markets now define an average hit as a miss, where most companies are refusing to provide forward-looking guidance, business is just not at all usual. Words like contactless, agility, adapt, cooperation, collaboration, trust have taken on new importance. These words have been assigned new power and relevance by Mother Nature. Take “trust”—leaders know this is a two way street, trust reciprocity. Trust is now so significant in importance that it is like a drug that confers survival.

I’ve heard CEOs say that this is not the best time to be leading a company. And maybe that’s right. But, as the pre-pandemic and still relevant adage goes, ”let’s turn lemons into lemonade.”

You might look at this time a bit differently. Perhaps there has never been a time so fortunate to be a CEO, to be leaders. Not just managers…leaders. To stand out. To be given time to redefine our strategies, refashion our models and our preparedness for our new future. To realize what is actually important. To recalibrate ourselves. We have been given the stillness of this intra-pandemic period to think. Our brakes have been applied for us and we are readying for acceleration into a redefined economy.

If we get this right, and I have every reason to believe that in the end we will, this time will be career-defining in many ways. We have only one time to get this right for ourselves, for our companies and our people. It will be like refueling at 30,000 feet and continuing to fly to our destination—a destination that we have just remapped, one with all new coordinates.

As we think about this time and the changes it is bringing, what are the new truths that we might consider as we resuscitate our businesses? The following list is not at all prescriptive—it is meant only to be thought provoking—and I’m certain it is only a partial list of all of our observations during these past weeks. But we can benefit from aggregating these observations into truths that will guide us and our businesses in the difficult days ahead.

1. Our minds need to operate like a neural algorithm to assimilate all the disparate data points and facts that are bombarding us daily.

2. Crystal balls (gut instincts) are necessary as we peer forward.

3. Generally, we now have more faith in data science and the biological sciences to provide operable solutions that will carry us through this crisis.

4. We have watched doctors, nurses, all healthcare professionals cheer as they save lives using all the sciences of healthcare—and communities are applauding.

5. Our personal health and wellness has become a necessity, not simply a “nice to have,” and this will impact all our decisions across our lives.

6. There seems to be a growing unification vs. polarity among people—we all want this to be over and to move forward.

7. Trusted brands, leaders, companies have never been more important. Employees will be increasingly loyal to trusted leaders who inspire and show a real interest in people; trust is like oxygen—crucial for sustaining life.

8. Brands that provide, and deliver on, relevant, timely and positive messaging will emerge stronger than others.

9. Contactless, non-touch purchasing is here to stay.

10. The pharmaceutical industry is emerging in a new, powerful and positive light.

11. Virtual doctor visits will be here far beyond this pandemic, as a large and significant contributor to health and wellbeing.

12. Government in its totality is less trusted.

13. Global ability with local sensibility and sensitivity has never been more important.

14. Asking all the right questions has never been as significant and necessary.

15. Listening and observing are skills to be honed now.

16. Distance learning, meeting, working, distance “everything” is a permanent reality and will inform our business strategies.

17. Offices, airplanes, restaurants, malls, parks, buses, trains, anyplace where people are in close proximity will be reimagined and redesigned.

18. Separation is the new closeness.

19. Shaking hands will be replaced with another form of greeting and our personal space around us will be understood and respected.

20. Once-competitive companies will collaborate for innovation, for efficiency, for share, for relevance in complimentary ways never before imagined.

21. “Imagine” is a new, relevant and important verb for business.

22. Crisis management is being redefined as “preparedness,” a whole new discipline that will support corporate and operational security and employee safety.

23. “Corporate preparedness” will become a newly defined business unit required by CEOs and their boards, and supported by shareholders—costly but a new and integral component of businesses DNA (e.g., Amazon).

24. New corporate strategies will be designed by leaders on the front lines, sometimes working alongside consultants who have a wide lens into the underpinnings and solutions to this pandemic-caused new reality that’s redefining business, work environment and work product.

25. New industries, new products and services will emerge as a result of this pandemic.

26. Every company’s supply channels will be microscopically scrutinized, modified and more tightly controlled.

27. Consumer behaviors will be defined and measured by personal and family health and security.

28. Consumers are wary and weary of brands (products and businesses) that don’t deliver on expectations or on promised value.

29. Companies that are managed across every dimension solely for cost efficiency might be strangling themselves (short term existence vs. long term survival).

30. Innovation, reimagining, sustainability and preparedness are now intertwined and forming a conjoined discipline, perhaps called “corporate navigation.”

This is just a start, the beginning of observations that might be considered relevant as our future strategies are laid first in sand, then in concrete. It is a list to inspire each of us to think divergently about the right questions to be asking for our businesses and for ourselves. The answers to all these will be developed into the picture of our personal and corporate futures.

Make no mistake—when all is said and done, all will be said and done. We will be better leaders with re-cast career trajectories, enjoying loyalty from our associates, leading a better and more prepared company in a country that itself is better in many and important ways. This is a time for recalibration at every business and personal level.

We are indeed all in this quagmire together. How we emerge will depend solely on how we react and respond to this adversity. C-19 is the great separator. Some incredible leaders will emerge from these times—times that can make a career. If we are open, ask questions, think big and differently, this time will redefine leadership—leadership that earns trust, loyalty and success.

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