Courage Through Crisis

It’s a difficult word, courage. Brimming with emotive imagery, it unleashes thoughts of what you would do if you were plunged into the situations that heroes find themselves in.

Getting to grips with the concept of courage requires us to consider potential scenarios that we hope won’t come to pass. These scenarios sometimes become reality, which is when crisis sets in.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions.” ­– C.S. Lewis

The fallout of Covid-19 has turned everyone into a potential superhero. It has nothing to do with corporate hierarchies before the crisis or even social status, as heroes across the spectrum have stepped up to the challenge.

The finest heroes are altruistic, of course. They give without expectation of receiving recognition or reward. You won’t often find such heroes in a corporate environment, but they do exist.

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Courage isn’t the same as good PR

Most leaders see the opportunity to build brand equity through actions that are popular in the court of public opinion. An excellent example of this would be Outsurance’s decision to pay business interruption claims at a time when competitors like Santam stubbornly decided not to.

Whether this is genuinely reflective of Outsurance’s approach to claims or not, there is no doubt that they polished the brand quite magnificently in the world of social media. Santam, in stark contrast, tarnished years of investment in their “Insurance: Good and Proper” tagline.

To make it worse, it has subsequently become unavoidable for them to pay a significant proportion of the claims, so the brand damage has been accompanied by financial loss anyway.

Courage must be authentic

Courage doesn’t have to be altruistic, but it must be genuine. Employees and customers quickly see right through any attempts to window-dress a corporate culture in a time of crisis. Once a leader has been found out as an empty vessel, there is no coming back.

Authenticity is only possible when your actions align with your purpose. When you are driven from the very depths of your soul to do something, otherwise insurmountable barriers become hurdles that can be overcome.

You need to act with confidence even when you don’t have the answers. This isn’t possible unless your actions accord with your moral fibre.

The very livelihoods of your staff members depend on your ability to navigate the toughest economic times we’ve seen in a century. Nobody ever said that leadership was easy, but the challenge is exponentially higher when the world is burning.

Empathy as the foundation

Courageous leadership is built on empathy. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but the new world has thrown personal and corporate needs into a melting pot. This reality is going to stick to some extent as well, as many employees see the incredible value in working from home.

Leaders who take the time to understand each person’s needs will create loyalty that money cannot buy. Encouraging individuality and demonstrating trust will build employee goodwill, which is the ultimate retention tool.

Resilience as the strongest competitive advantage

Industries are fluid. Technology is accelerating at a rate we’ve never seen before. Today’s competitive advantages may not be remotely relevant next year.

The only true differentiator is your people. Companies that retain their most important minds are best placed to adapt and grow, navigating the trials that are constantly faced by market leaders and challengers alike.

This crisis is a golden opportunity to build resilience into the fabric of your company culture. Respecting individualism and encouraging communication will empower your staff members to feel safe and valued, which will be rewarded for years to come.

Retrenchments as the ultimate destroyer of culture

Sometimes, companies have no choice. If it’s a case of retrench or liquidate, then it’s difficult to argue that this isn’t the right course of action.

In many cases, companies are simply being opportunistic. A corporate workforce that was bloated can easily be culled under these circumstances using Covid-19 as the rationale. This is a cowardly decision by a management team who allowed the bloatedness in the first place, instead of managing things properly.

This might do wonders for the income statement in 2021, but what happens in the years thereafter?

Retrenchments hurt. Cultures are ripped apart. Everyone becomes paranoid and even those who are unaffected spend a lot of time questioning their futures with the company.

You cannot retrench your way to resilience. Only courageous, authentic leadership can get you there.

This article is a collaborative effort between The Finance Ghost and Arete Advisors – all rights reserved.

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