They say that alcohol reduces your inhibitions and exaggerates your basic qualities. Aggressive people become violent, grumpy people become really miserable and bubbly positive people become party animals.

It occurred to me that the same thing seems to happen to world leaders in press conferences during pandemics. Duterte of the Philippines threatens to kill anybody that breaches the lockdown. Jacinda Ahern of New Zealand becomes even kinder (check out the clip of her explaining to the nation’s children the problems the Easter bunny might have this year). And Trump finds even more people to insult and organisations to bully. 

In the meantime in the UK, we are of course leaderless with our Prime Minister convalescing at Chequers whilst some kind of X-Factor style audition process goes on at 5pm every day in case he doesn’t return. “Congratulations you’re through to judges’ houses” or maybe “It’s a no from me”. I’m sure you are drawing your own conclusions.

But week 4 of lockdown is exactly the time when leadership is required. 

Friend of the firm, Steve Backley alerted me to “week 4 syndrome” in his latest video clip. Up to that point, everyone tends to pull together but week 4 is when the cracks can start to show. I thought it was noticeable that the first protests about lockdown started in various parts of the world this week. 

This is human nature at work and what happens globally may well be happening in your firm. There are clearly four stages to this thing for most of us:

    1. The survival phase when you acted on instinct
    2. The “New normal” phase making the most of what is a surreal situation
    3. An economic crash of some kind probably when furloughing comes to an end. There will lots of redundancies and lots of legal disputes
    4. The recovery phase as businesses start to re-emerge and new ones are started

These stages will overlap of course and some of you will be in one stage when others are at a different stage. But for most of us, we are in the “new normal” phase whether that is with a business working in a completely different way, one that is significantly downsized or perhaps one that is in hibernation. 

In normal times, some of the most successful business owners are really good at catastrophising. This usually happens around 4am in the morning after a particular problem has arisen the previous day and goes something like this:

  • “If that’s gone wrong, how many others have gone wrong?”
  • “If loads have gone wrong, we are going to lose all our best customers and get sued”
  • “We won’t have enough for the overheads and my drawings”
  • “I’m going to lose my house”
  • “My life is over”

By 6am, rational thought has returned and you have a plan for fixing whatever it is that has gone wrong. By 9.05am, members of your team will be aware of that plan. The more conscientious ones will get it and support the solutions. Some will roll their eyes behind your back questioning to themselves what all the fuss is about.

But you and I know that the secret to a successful business over a long period of time is the combination of all that catastrophising. As one of my clients once said to me “the secret to our success is that when there’s a problem we are all over it”. 

We also know that without you, there would have been no catastrophising and the problem would have been ignored. Whilst the implications would not have been as disastrous as the 4am version of you thought they would be, the impact on the business would be a negative one. Add all those occasions together and you have the difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful one.

That’s what being a leader is all about. 

And leaders are what we need at the moment. 

If there’s one thing I hope will change as a result of the current crisis it is that there will be more leaders and less influencers. 

I want to see more people like Joe Wicks keeping the young people of the country fit. More people like Captain Tom Moore, 99 years old and raising our spirits and £12m! More people like the 17 year old girl who put a letter through the door of every elderly person in the road where my Mum lives offering to help with shopping and other jobs whilst making it clear that she didn’t want any kind of payment. 

And let’s see less of all those superficial influencers telling our young people about their “perfect” lives whilst promoting the latest must have product and contributing nothing to the planet other than creating anxiety and insecurity amongst their followers. 

Now we are into the new normal phase, your skills as a leader are required more than ever. Even if most of your staff are furloughed, they will be looking for leadership from you. Ten leadership challenges for you to take on now include:

  1. Remember your moral responsibilities as well as your legal ones as an employer. If you spend less time worrying about yourself and focus on others whether that’s staff, family, neighbours or friends you will be less worried about your own situation
  2. See hurdles, not barriers. Remember that Henry Ford quote – “If you think you can or can’t do something, you’re probably right”.
  3. Forget sales (for the time being) and focus on value. People are only motivated by the avoidance of pain or the gaining of pleasure. Which of those does your product or service deliver?
  4. Try to ignore what you’ve lost and focus on the opportunities. Remember that the thing that makes people happiest is the feeling of making progress. If you can focus on what your business can be not what it was you will personally feel more positive
  5. Focus on available resources not the things that are not available
  6. Think outside the box and try and come up with new ideas on how your business can deliver what it does but in a different way. My favourite example this week is the Professional Darts Corporation starting the PDC Home tour where the world’s top darts players play each other from home. The PDC is run by a Chartered Accountant (Barry Hearn) by the way. Just saying!
  7. Have a plan. Some of it might be based on guesswork about the economy we are going to find ourselves in. But a plan that has to be adapted later is better than no plan at all
  8. Take advice from people you trust and read widely especially around elements of your plan. 
  9. Find a way to communicate all of this to your team. There are plenty of ways you can keep in touch. Find a way that suits your strengths. Regular emails to your team, social media, one to one chats. Whatever works.
  10. Don’t hide anything from employees. This year is not going to be easy. You may need to lower their expectations for the future but inspire them with your plan for how your business will get through this.

Whatever you do, accept that waking up at 4am catastrophising is possibly when you are at your most creative as long as you are working on the problem. If you’re awake, get up and starting doing whatever you need to do.

If you get it right, your team will be behind you. No need to shoot anyone, no need to insult or bully anyone and almost certainly no need to talk about the travel arrangements of the Easter Bunny.

Have a good weekend. 

Tomorrow night we’ll be looking at the third of the seven habits of highly effective people – beginning with the end in mind.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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