9/11, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump?! Events which seemed unthinkable at the time.
And yet, no event in recent times has so dominated the news more, and had greater potential implications for both small and large businesses, than the Coronavirus pandemic.
So in these unsettling times, what should board members be focusing on and how should leadership respond to the crisis as it unfolds?
On this week’s teissPodcast, I spoke with Steve Durbin, Managing Director of the Information Security Forum (ISF), who offered advice on how leadership should engage with shareholders, customers and their employees, as well as why he thinks there’s no better time than the present to reassess how we operate - both as businesses and as individuals.
If you've not had time to listen to the podcast, here are a few key points below.
The role of the board
Nobody has a perfect answer for how to resolve this crisis; we are all in uncharted territory. However, when it comes to the board’s role - they are there to provide a degree of stability. “This is a time for them to consider how they can add value to the situation,” Steve advises.
The board should remain the “forward looking” element of the business, but they should not get too involved in the operational parts of what businesses are going through at the moment; that is the role of executive leadership. “They are not there to be an additional burden on the leadership,” he adds.
Some of the impacts of the pandemic will be very far reaching. “We are identifying digital solutions that perhaps we wouldn't have identified otherwise,” Steve states. So the board should now try to revise strategy: they should ask themselves, what are some of the things we had planned that are no longer going to be effective?
The role of leadership
Steve says that leaders have a degree of "duty of care” towards their employees across their organisations.
“Right now, it’s important to make sure you are communicating effectively and that you’re being as transparent as possible. It’s being open about the fact that you might not have all the answers, but also transparent about what you believe in. That engenders a degree of confidence - not just in the boardroom but across the organisation,” he stresses.
It’s no easy task to be a leader right now because you have to adapt your style, Steve explains. You have to take into account the way in which your audience is feeling - maybe some of your staff are comfortable with and used to remote working, others perhaps - not so much. However, you have to reach out to all members of your organisation and lend them your support, or point them in the right direction for support.
Leadership teams need to communicate regularly with, listen to and empathise with their people and provide insight and guidance - as appropriate.
"They need to create the opportunity for people to get back together, virtually - whether through coffee mornings or happy hours. We should never underestimate the importance of that because we are inherently social animals and we like to interact with people,” Steve states.
Listen to the full podcast here, where Steve also offers guidance on how leadership should engage with their shareholders and customers, as well as how to have those difficult conversations with staff who have to be laid off.