3 min read

Leadership: Tough Times, Tough Decisions

Business leadership concept with the businessman standing on pillar.

Encapsulate 2020 so far… is that even possible? COVID-19 is a nausea induced rollercoaster twisting, turning, looping daily with any attempt to obtain true objective data equivalent to finding a unicorn. Long overdue social change has taken the collective attention of the nation, many times violently. The 2020 presidential election has politics in overload dispersing a thick layer of fog over everything, obscuring any attempt at clarity. Trying to solve this complex problem equates to one answer – uncertainty.

People do not like change. People, and more specifically consumers and businesses, really abhor uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds a lack of confidence. A lack of confidence has the effect of slowing a bullet train to a crawl. Consumers postpone purchases, businesses hunker down to conserve cash and do whatever is necessary to stay afloat.

Employees sent home in March, slowly returned in June. only to be sent back home after a resurgence in the virus. Working remotely brought unforeseen benefits in finding compassion and realness, while also dealing a blow to morale. Mundane business decisions became difficult and difficult business decisions became taboo. Keeping the boat afloat trumped piloting the boat in the right direction. One word seems to permeate every decision regardless of how minor – fear.

Fear, Uncertainty, Opportunity

As a leader, making any decisions based on fear ironically breeds more doubt, which in turn leads to more fear. This vicious circle is not only paralyzing, it prevents the ability to flip fear on its head and find his enemy – opportunity.

Make no mistake, amid all the chaos, opportunities abound in the nooks and crannies of a business to make bold strokes. What better time is there to focus on the business and make changes and difficult decisions truly beneficial to the business.

I’ve seen many articles and meme’s about using this time to “come out stronger”. I believe a majority of businesses use this as a mental instrument to simply get by, never truly embracing it to make real change. I’ll admit, it is much easier to say “let’s use this time to find new ways to generate revenue” than it is to actually do it. I’ve often caught myself trying to balance managing emotional

wellbeing with what is sincerely best for the business. Often these needs can be diametrically opposed with maintaining the status quo the easier route.

In times like this, it is very easy to find a hundred reasons to keep a poor performing employee rather than making a change justifiably better for the business. Who wants to be the one known for letting someone go in the middle of a pandemic? Not many. The very real impact to someone’s wellbeing, and their family, is certainly a palpable load. However, if you keep them, how long? Until the pandemic is over, which may be more than a year away if ever? What is the negative impact to the business? What opportunism is missed by avoiding it?

The same can be said for making wholesale changes to your business model and services. What if they don’t work? What if our existing customers don’t like it? Unfortunately, even with all the buzz about AI (artificial intelligence), we have yet to create a crystal ball. It’s not easy to rise above the din to see and observe what unique opportunities may exist. Sure, there may be low hanging fruit to harvest. Using tools like Zoom and Teams to improve collaboration are being touted on countless blogs and articles. But what about the gold buried deep within your existing business models? It takes far more effort and concentration to find and even more to mine.

Think about this. You have a service bringing in nice revenue and has been for years, but it is losing relevance and will likely be obsolete in the next few years. Do you continue to spend valuable time and resources to keep the revenue source afloat, or do you take the opportunity to sunset and decommission the service now so focus can be shifted to more strategic initiatives? Not an easy decision in good times and abundantly more difficult when every dollar ‘in’ is more pronounced in current times.

Be More, Do More

Though admittingly not easy, I believe both can be done. Important and necessary steps can and should be taken to help ensure and improve employee and customer morale and wellbeing, while also making difficult and bold decisions in the best interest of the business. The tough decisions, if actually better for the business, will translate to a better experience for your current and future customers. Waiting a month or six months not only delays reaping the rewards, you may miss them altogether. The dreaded “I don’t know what I don’t know” factor creeps in, robbing you of what you

Tough decisions may not make you popular in the short-term, but your business, employees and customers will thank you in the long term. The old adage of yanking off the band-aid carries some truth.

A leader can be compassionate and bold, have empathy and grit, maintain character and shrewdness. Above all it takes courage.

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