Post-Pandemic Success Depends on Leadership’s Ability to Pivot and Confront New Challenges

May 27, 2020

By: Michael Kelly, Managing Director of Michael Kelly Associates

Not all economic crises are created equal, but there are three cardinal rules for any business to follow if it hopes to emerge stronger: resist the instinct to panic, fight the temptation of complacency and welcome in the unwelcome season of change. 

The catch is that these three cardinal rules don’t all click at once for groups of people who are faced with unprecedented accountability. By the time companies come around to the last rule — the most important one — they’ve lost their critical window to adapt with agility and market foresight.

The COVID-19 crisis shows us, plainly, that businesses have never had a better time to examine the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership teams. How does the board function in a time of forked expectations? How does a CEO unite and motivate managers? What is the CFO’s survival plan? 

Who steps up? Who buckles? 

These are hard questions. They’re sensitive questions. In the fog of maintaining day-to-day resiliency, they’re the questions even the best business leaders may fear having to ask. They don’t quite know how because the ground beneath them suddenly isn’t the same, even as the stakes get higher. 

For decades, across a wide array of industries, my firm has helped companies navigate crisis by providing leadership assessment that fosters organizational development. We evaluate and benchmark leaders using a transparent process that enables companies to retool as they’re faced with new realities. 

The key is to recognize that there is always ample opportunity for positive internal change, whether the particular challenge at hand is an obvious disaster or an embarrassment of riches. 

The CEO of one Fortune 100 company once came to me with a different sort of “crisis,” so to speak. All of his direct reports were making so much money that it became apparent some of them would retire sooner than was good for the company’s stewardship. 

This CEO asked me to take the top five people who reported to him and benchmark the best in class. If his CFO came in the next day and resigned, he wanted to be able to kick start the search right away. We would already have the files. 

The upheaval of a global pandemic — a true crisis with devastating human costs and novel risks — brings with it uncertain timelines and a chain of anticipated setbacks. 

Events such as these can fundamentally alter the composition of a company’s talent capability, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. The group you assembled for one purpose may no longer be ideally suited for the situation at hand and the future in front of you. 

It may seem unusual to compare the musical chairs of a company’s windfall profits to the pain of an economic shutdown — one that may well dwarf the fallout of the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 recession. But the leadership mentality required is what unites these scenarios in their demand for proactive, organizational wisdom. 

This is the time to evaluate people. It’s the time to identify talent that has risen to the “A” level and now merits a more robust standing in the company. It’s the time for boards and corporations to invite an appraisal of their culture, refining the pillars of how they operate top to bottom. 

My firm steers clients toward growth and prosperity by strengthening their boards and senior leadership teams. We conduct the assessments that so many companies lack the self-awareness to undertake in an objective and conflict-free process. We’re the trusted consultant you turn to for a 360-degree evaluation, bringing every company leader to the table to confront the obstacle that is the status quo. 

As the business community reels from the shock and paralysis of the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere should begin to embrace the road that lies ahead. Now is the time to set in motion a plan that will let talent thrive toward recovery. 

Michael P. Kelly is Managing Partner of Michael Kelly Associates, a boutique executive search and corporate governance consulting firm with offices in New York, New Jersey, and Tampa, Florida. The company has worked with organizations including Exxon, Tenet, Citibank, HealthSouth, Wilmington Trust, TD Bank, Wells Fargo, and Mass Mutual.

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