I was looking at the tired faces in the video call. Their eyes were red, with black circles underneath. Their shoulders were rounded and bent. Only one or two made an effort to smile. A dozen of young, bright and ambitious CEOs were in this regular weekly call — but this time they all looked extremely troubled.
In the round that followed, everyone shared their news and updates. Some of the businesses had been hit really hard by CODIV-19. Some others had to discover an alternative supplier or distribution channel on the fly. Most of them were very much concerned about how they could better support their people and secure these jobs.
But I could also notice one thing that they all had in common. A sense of optimism. The determination to find a solution. The desire to hold strong. All of those troubled, tired faces seemed so similar in their resilience and courage.
I think that the COVID-19 crisis is giving rise to a new generation of leaders. Representing qualities and values that our world sometimes seems to be sort of.
It surely woke up inside me qualities that I did not know that I have. It was Friday 13th when our Exec team took the decision to practically shut down of office and send everyone to work from home. On Monday 16th, our first Zoom-based Exec weekly tactical meeting was scheduled to take place. Normally, we would review progress against our quarterly goals and discuss about our weekly priorities. Nevertheless, my weekend was full of worry and distress and insecurity. I was feeling unsure and scared. I had no idea how to open this meeting.
The world we lived in was about to collapse. How could I ask my team to continue discussing business as usual?
A thought started to emerge: if I felt so terribly lost, afraid and insecure, my team would probably feel the same. They would also worry about their families, friends and beloved ones. They would also feel insecure about their jobs and concerned about whether our company could survive. They would also be so much scared of the tectonic changes taking place around us.
Then, my duty as a leader was evident. I had to find a way to keep everyone together. To support each and every member of our team. To find a goal that would unite and inspire us all. To provide the rallying cry that would keep us sane and going.
First, I went to that initial online meeting with an urge to define our rallying cry. We dropped everything else from the agenda. We focused on only a few important questions:
- Given the circumstances out there, what is the single most important thing that we should try to achieve?
- What should be the grand challenge that we should all focus on during the next 6 to 8 weeks?
- What would be the critical KPI that we should all pursue?
Our joint call to action should not be an easy task. It had to contribute significantly to the sustainability of our business, during these troubled times. It should stretch our capabilities, be beyond our normal reach, but also be realistic and achievable. To inspire and challenge our people, not to demotivate them.
Second, I insisted on maintaining our meeting routines. We quickly set up our regular, recurring meetings as online video calls, by adding to each calendar slot a corresponding Zoom link. We provided all meeting facilitators with online agenda templates and scripts. We also created shared spreadsheets to document and monitor our decided actions. We used PPT slides to document and visualize the agenda scripts. Online timers to keep the pace of meetings. In an environment that kept on changing, we aimed for establishing continuity. Maintaining our habits and routines. Creating a feeling of security.
And it worked.
Our “Coronavirus Challenge” is the common theme around which we are all working. Our marketing, sales, product, innovation and operation activities are all focused on and aligned to serve this theme. With a drum roll that consistently keeps us going:
- On Mondays, we review new ideas and use the Impact*Confidence*Ease (ICE) framework to vote on the ones that we can pursue.
- Every day on 14:14 we have an online check in (the so-called Daily Huddle) to review progress, talk about achievements, and resolve blocking issues.
- On Fridays, we use the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) framework to reflect upon how our week went — going through the list of OKRs that each one of us has accountability for.
- All teams have their weekly tactical meetings. Some of them have also their own daily check in.
- All people get a weekly coaching session with their supervisors, following the principles of the GROW model.
In this way, we manage to operate at a capacity and speed that I have not witnessed before in our company. Despite the circumstances, our team is managing to be so much more connected and aligned.
We are not the only ones. Every other day, I hear from colleagues in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) how they experience similar transformations within their companies — and themselves. It’s like this crisis gave the opportunity for so many people to rise and shine.
I think that, inside the flames of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new generation of leaders is being galvanized. Hopefully, a generation from which the leaders of our future will arise.