One year ago, I don’t think anyone of us could have predicted that the world would look the way it does today. We often find ourselves saying that about major changes. However, it’s unlikely that the saying has ever felt as accurate as it does today.
We are living through uncertain times. As leaders, we’re simultaneously working to navigate an environment unlike any we have experienced while doing so in a way that supports our people, our clients, and our communities. There are no management books about how to thrive amid government-mandated shutdowns and social distancing. It’s unprecedented. It is times like these when focus and patience are difficult virtues to maintain.
In his book, “How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In,” Jim Collins shares that, in times of crisis, leadership often starts trying all kinds of new things to fix their organizations. There’s often a frantic call to get “innovative” and “think outside the box” for ideas. It’s not that new ideas are bad but when they replace the things that made the organizations successful in the first place, they often lead in a direction the company isn’t prepared to head. Collins’ decades of research suggest the opposite is actually what will help organizations recover: Go back to your flywheel—the core problem your business exists to solve, your core values, what you’re trying to accomplish in the world, and what has made you successful in the first place.
This isn’t to say that innovation isn’t warranted. It is, and it’s imperative. To serve our teams well, we are innovating daily, testing what works and adjusting what isn’t, as we navigate a new style of working together. The world is understandably disrupted and distracted, but it needs to continue moving forward for everyone’s sake. That’s why it’s essential to ask yourself “what does adding value to our clients and communities look like today?” Innovation is required to serve our organizations and communities. But if you build bicycles for a living, now is not the time to switch to building Indy cars for the sake of innovation. The world still needs bicycles. You may just have to figure out a new way to fulfill that need.
Right now, it’s more important than ever before to lead by taking a breath and refocusing on the basics: Why do we do what we do? What do we stand for? What are we trying to accomplish in the world? These are questions that can and should guide us through, as an organization and as a leader.
Kerry Phillips is the vice president of private sector services for KSM Consulting in Indianapolis.