What are leaders doing in the face of the Covid-19 crisis?
One of the inspiring leaders I worked with, confided to me that his first reflex was to bring out again a book that often guided him in times of crisis: Leading at The Edge. These are the leadership lessons learned from Shackleton's extraordinary expedition to Antarctica.
In 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton set out to explore the Antarctic continent with his team of sailors and scientists. His ship soon found itself trapped in the ice. The crew faced with the Siberian cold, the scarcity of food and supplies fought for their survival for two interminable years before finally being rescued. The 120-day adventure ended after 634 days.
Royal Geographic Society
Leading at The Edge author, Dennis Perkins, reports that not only have the 28 crew (including a stowaway) returned safely "but they have also shown leadership and extraordinary teamwork, showing compassion and camaraderie that is unique in itself ”.
Perkins identified 10 ingredients that helped Shackleton’s crew survive. Do the same strategies apply in the context of Covid-19? I will let you judge by highlighting initiatives put forward since the start of the crisis by three leaders whom I coach: Simon, Dominique and Sophie.
1. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short-term objectives. For Shackleton it meant giving up his dream of crossing the Antarctica and setting a new goal: bringing back all the men in his crew alive. "From the start, he knew how to establish routines that continued."
In the early hours of Covid-19, our three leaders set up a crisis cell and defined their target and the guidelines for managing relationships with employees, customers, suppliers and their partners. The watchword was to prioritize the health of all. The short-term actions were therefore to reorganize the work of those who would continue to operate on site or by telework.
2. Set a personal example with visible, memorable symbols and behaviors. "In dire straits good words are powerful!" When the Endurance crew helplessly witnessed the destruction of their ship by ice, Shackleton assured his team that "by strenuous effort, hard work and loyal cooperation they would succeed in getting to dry land. "
Since March 13, all have implemented daily communication rituals with their teams via conference calls and videoconferencing. They chose authenticity: to be reassuring and frank, while showing determination to do the right things.
3. Instill optimism and confidence, but stay grounded in reality. Shackleton was encouraged by the optimistic attitude of his team and fueled it, surprisingly, by discussing with them the prospect of a future expedition to Alaska! "The crisis situation requires looking in two directions at the same time: maintaining an optimistic perception and at the same time facing reality as it is."
Cultivating optimism in ourselves is therefore necessary in order to be able to inspire in turn. To help his team validate his game plan, Simon was inspired by a blog from François Normand on Les Affaires.com describing the 10 principles of a Quebec entrepreneur who had just crossed the Covid-19 in China.
Getting rigorous information from reliable sources is also essential in times of crisis. According to Dominique, this is the best way to be consistent and able to justify the restrictive measures that are implemented.
4. Take care of yourself: Maintain your stamina and let go of guilt. When it comes to energy, you need to lead by example. Simon and Sophie are continuing their daily workout: they alternate between running and cycling, both to stay in shape but above all to free their minds and keep their energy level.
Although he managed to maintain morale, Shackleton, in addition to managing the anxiety of others, had to overcome his own fears. He managed his potentially destructive emotions by confiding in certain partners on board whom he trusted. Keeping a diary and writing to relatives (even if he had no way to send these letters) also allowed him to express his intimate doubts. Just naming your emotions is a relief.
5. Reinforce the team message constantly: We are one - we live or die together.
Sophie met all employees in small groups, of course, to respect the rules of social distancing! But also, to allow everyone to express their concerns and stay engaged in the search for solutions. Shackleton asked his troop continuously: "Is there something we are not doing but that we should be doing?"
6. Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect. In a crisis situation, it can be tempting to attack the bearer of the message and send packing the advisor or supervisor, who reminds us of the rules of health and safety. Intervening quickly is key. For Simon, the challenge is to create an environment in which everyone feels respected regardless of their role.
7. Master conflict – deal with anger in small doses, engage dissidents, and avoid needless power struggles. Some have reacted very negatively to the implementation of certain isolation and security measures. Our reaction to these people who speak loudly and who have the gift of creating problems, is often to keep them away! A more productive but counter-intuitive reaction is to ensure that they are involved in the search for solutions and in the decision-making process. Dominic strives to encourage the expression of dissenting opinions which often lead him to see what he would otherwise not have seen. And as Perkins points out, "solving a problem without delay can prevent it from getting worse."
8. Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about. When you are under pressure, the ability to relax, celebrate and laugh can make the difference. It allows you to step back from problems, reduce fear and overcome major obstacles. When his crew left the shipwreck, Shackleton went to retrieve a zither that weighed 5.5 kg, saying that it was a vital medicine for the spirit and that they would need it! Sophie starts each team meeting with humor which allows others to get on board and laugh at themselves and others with kindness!
9. Be willing to take the Big Risk. "It's best to avoid taking unnecessary risks, but it may be necessary to act boldly." When Shackleton had to admit that he would not be able to feed his men all winter, rather than let them starve, he risked the canoe crossing of the 1,300 km that separated them from South Georgia. Like the explorer, several leaders and entrepreneurs have already undertaken to do things differently and to evolve their business model, aware that the post-Covid-19 will be different from the before!
10. Never give up, there’s always another move. Finding creative solutions to worrying problems is particularly difficult in extreme situations. This is what led Shackleton and his crew to slip from the top of a 1370m glacier pass. "In a crisis, it is realistic to expect things to go wrong. Once this reality is accepted, the challenge is to mobilize the creative energy of the team to find solutions.
Around the same time, in 1913, a team that set out to explore the Arctic also found itself trapped in the ice. Unlike the Endurance crew in the south, the Karluk crew in the north has completely disintegrated. "Lies, deception and theft have become commonplace," said Perkins, about the ship, whose 11 crew members perished in the Arctic desert.
What should we remember from these adventures dating back over a century? In a crisis, "optimism means believing that one way or another, the team will succeed"!
As Quebec pauses, here are some readings, which I hope will inspire you for the after!