Posted 2nd April 2020
Ian Baxter, Chairman at Baxter Freight, shares his top ten tips to help you survive - even thrive, as a leader during this challenging time.
The Coronavirus pandemic is the biggest crisis almost all leaders have ever confronted. As well as threatening our health, it’s bigger financially than 2008/09. Who knew that was just a warm-up lap for what we now face? Although absolutely no-one would choose this horrific situation, it’s at least an opportunity for leaders to demonstrate our worth. Here are my top ten tips to help you survive and even thrive in your role:
It’s obviously easier said than done but we all know panicking helps no-one. You need to calmly assess your new reality. If your business is currently able to trade, you need to use your key performance indicators to measure where you’re at. At Baxter Freight we’re trying not to look at one day, good or bad, but instead using a rolling five days of sales revenue and shipment data to inform decision making.
Even when the pressure is on it’s really helpful not to spend all your time at the coal face. Especially when there is a lot going on, it’s important to remember no-one (even a leader) is superhuman. Everyone needs rest, relaxation, exercise, fresh air, good meals, family time and the distraction of a movie, book or music.
You also need to see the bigger picture. For once we really are all in this together. This crisis impacts everyone, every company, every family, each one of us in this country and around the world. So, take comfort that while leading through this time may seem especially lonely, you are not alone.
We live in a society that prizes self-reliance, but this is not the time to try to solve everything yourself. Instead, despite the physical distance, you need to work even more closely with your colleagues and lean on each other. Seek help from everyone who might be helpful: family or friends, customers or suppliers, your bank or the government. This is no time for pride, it’s time to leverage the relational capital you’ve built up and take up all the opportunities for help. This is one of those times when only the State is big enough to get business through this and, in the UK, I’m confident our Government will go all the way to provide the right help.
This situation is very new, complex and disorienting. As well as facing huge financial challenges, leaders are worrying about the health of their family and friends, trying to support relatives and having to work away from face to face contact with their teams. In this context, no-one has all the right answers, so there’s no need to pretend you do! It’s okay to say ‘I’ll get back to you’, to take a few days to make decisions and even to change your mind. Rushing into decisions and being too insecure to make a U-turn are dangerous right now. Your team need to see you as a non-anxious, trustworthy and confident person who can get them through this period, rather than someone who is weak and pressured into giving rapid fire answers to every question, right or wrong. Putting one foot carefully in front of the other is all you can do.
Right now, it’s even more important to remember the principles your organisation was founded on and not throw them out the window at the first sign of stress. Pride yourself on your values. Baxter Freight seeks to be the most customer focused logistics company in the UK – so let’s double down on that! We aim to build long term relationships with our customers, suppliers and staff – so let’s focus on that! We want to be people of integrity, constantly working to build trust – it’s never been more important to champion that.
Now I know you may be screaming back that if you don’t focus on the short term there won’t be a long term – and I get that. But while dealing with the urgent matters in front of you, don’t forget to look over your shoulder at past achievements, and forward to the future plans made in brighter times. Sooner or later this crisis will be over and when it is there will have been winners and losers. If you want to ensure your company is a survivor it’s vital not to undermine the foundations on which it’s built. Try hard not to do anything which may hinder your future success.
It’s vital that you maintain a daily rhythm to your business, creating a new normal for your team. As all 80 of my Baxter Freight colleagues are working from home at the moment, we can’t currently meet face to face. But we live in a day and age where technology is a key team player, allowing us to hold regular scheduled meetings using video conferencing. We’re even planning our first virtual social events too!
No business ever went bust through lack of profitability, it’s a lack of cash that does them in. So, businesses need to steward the money they have carefully, working in consultation with customers, suppliers, financiers and government agencies to ensure a balanced and fair approach.
It sounds trite yet it’s worth remembering that people are ALWAYS your most valuable asset. So, while every business needs to manage costs and cash very closely, working to keep the people you’ve invested in is key.
I fully acknowledge the seriousness of this crisis. As well as a threat to our health, it obviously places many companies and livelihoods at risk. But we have to believe that most businesses which were viable and well-run before the Coronavirus will somehow emerge from this time in one piece. Let’s keep calm, work together and remember the foundations our companies are built upon, so we can be the leaders who ensure this is the case.