game changer

A clear sense of purpose and sticking to leadership fundamentals are critical in a crisis. People want certainty, but this is in short supply, so you must keep your mind on the endgame and be positive — optimism and pessimism are both contagious.

Agility of mind is needed in complex, ambiguous environments, along with clarity of focus. I always return to my mission and do an appreciation process — what are the key goals, risks to achieving these goals? What needs to be prioritised in what sequence?

What courses of action can we take? In the military, everything gets war-gamed. If you don’t consider worst-case planning, you’re already three steps behind.

Teamwork is essential during a crisis, so it’s important to empower people to make quick decisions. Setting clear priorities, reinforcing key goals and ensuring people know their jobs and how these support and link back to the mission assists them to do this, particularly when working in remote teams.

Sometimes, leaders think they shouldn’t have to keep reminding people about mission priorities. But if you do, it’s simple for those you delegate to to make innovative, brave decisions. I learned this from US General David Petraeus in Iraq in 2007, who issued a daily battlefield update to scores of thousands.

No plan survives contact with the enemy, so during and at the end of the crisis, you should do a detailed and transparent review process. Things to consider are:

  • What should we keep?
  • What should we fix?
  • What should we stop doing?

Using this approach and staying focused, you have a better chance of emerging OK at the other end.

Simone Wilkie AO MAICD spoke at an International Women’s Forum discussion in April.