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For businesses and society, these crosswinds have created a war on everything: on traditional leadership, on the role of companies, how we live, and how we plan for the future. Success in these turbulent times calls for wartime leadership.
In 2020, it’s business as usual, and leaders will be required to fend off a range of existential threats. These could come from a wide range of sources including increasing geopolitical instability, social disenfranchisement, polarization, macro-economic change, climate change, corona pandemic, and so forth.
The role of a wartime leader
A wartime leader is led by the very specific circumstances of their time. A wartime leader is hyper-aware and ever questioning, constantly articulates and demands adherence to their business purpose, has a long-term guiding vision, has excellent intelligence networks to seek insight and information from a broad range of sources and channels and isn’t afraid to pivot their business or strategy to a responding threat. They can also rapidly refocus people, skills, assets and revenue streams accordingly, and ideally in anticipation of it regardless of the accepted wisdom.
The style of leadership that resulted in business growth and profitability in previous decades will no longer be enough. Leaders will be forced to rethink traditional boundaries of competition, market, and industry along with navigating new pathways to collaboration, development, or service delivery in light of the evolving conditions.
This is an opportunity for leaders to look beyond traditional business metrics such as profit margins and shareholder returns to really consider and create purpose-driven organizations.
A leap beyond social responsibility, this means considering the long-term, positive impact – or legacy, if you will – they will have on all of their stakeholders and touch-points including their employees, their community, and their environment.
Maintaining the same mindset that worked in previous decades will simply not serve us in the future. Will our leaders step up to become wartime leaders or will they surrender to the challenges of time?
“The task of the leader is to get their people from where they are to where they have not been.” – Henry Kissinger
Important aspects of wartime leadership:
Remember this, “The ability to focus, obsess, and chalk out priorities is vital, and this skill is not one that comes easily. It comes from the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn the battlefield.”
Stop predicting how long this may be. None of us know. Instead, focus on what your business needs to do to survive and win the market. Get closer to acquisition than awareness. Focus on what you can do today to be better off tomorrow. These are times of war – living to the next day matters.
None of us know what will happen in the next weeks and months. Last week already feels like a year ago. For your team, over-communicate – especially when working from home, in isolation, and in uncertainty.
Keep the team up to date on as much as possible. Help them prioritize activities that have the biggest revenue opportunities. Have them take care of each other. Teach them how to think like a soldier – doing what needs to get done to get to the next day, helping pick up their fellow employees when they are down, and focusing on the task at hand.
Don’t forget, “A wartime leader has top priorities locked in, and is in a position to specialize in these elements with razor precision.”
“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” – Jim Rohn
Just as a chess grandmaster is in a position to see the entire board and not only a couple of moves ahead, so must a wartime leader. The ability to focus, obsess, and chalk out priorities is vital, and this skill is not one that comes easily.
It comes from the ability of a wartime leader to learn, unlearn, and relearn the battlefield.
Understanding the landscape and atmosphere during which the battle is fought is crucial.
Finally, the simplest wartime leader knows the way to lead. The best commander-in-chief knows the way to rally the troops and keep them motivated. Whether it’s down within the trenches or within the room, creating a bond with the soldiers that keeps them going is the mark of an accomplished wartime leader.
Understanding the landscape and atmosphere in which the battle is fought is crucial. If tough decisions need to be made, the resolve required to do so comes from a place of experience and knowledge. It takes courage to make unpopular and problematic decisions and the wartime leader must know that.