When the Distancing Ends, How Far Away Will You Be?

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once observed that “to be in hell is to drift, and to be in heaven is to steer.” In the two months since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services first declared a public health emergency, many organizations have found their businesses adrift on an uncharted sea of fear and uncertainty. Business plans that were ahead of schedule in mid-January ground to a halt as the virus spread, borders closed, and social distancing moved from an awkward new phrase to a mantra of daily life.

While much remains unknown, this much is certain: the time for drifting has passed. The economic outlook for the near-term is clearer: rough seas for the foreseeable future. Employees have settled into the work from home world. Our collective disorientation in the wake of a pandemic has given way to a new normal. The months ahead will be a high-pressure exercise in change management, and success will depend on an organization’s flexibility and capacity to adjust its trajectory. In other words, now is the time for leaders to steer once again.

What lines of business still show promise? Which functional areas can open the door to transformation? Where are the innovations (and innovators) that you should double-down on to change the game? At Decker, every leader we’ve ever worked with spoke of the need to create a sense of urgency in their organization. Guess what: that sense of urgency has arrived in spades. At this precarious moment, a heightened attentiveness and palpable energy now permeate the ranks of every organization. How will you harness this nervous energy? Can you communicate a message that catalyzes growth and regains momentum?

When faced with a force he could not manage (a force named George Foreman), Muhammed Ali conceived of the rope-a-dope – a strategy whereby Ali absorbed all the fury that Foreman could throw at him. Over the past 60 days, we’ve seen the corporate equivalent of the rope-a-dope: businesses have been defensive to the extreme, having taken hit after hit as Covid-19 hammered revenue and pummeled the best-laid plans. But the thing about the rope-a-dope is that it depends on the ability to counterattack. Ali came out of it swinging and won the fight.

History shows that even in the hardest times, there are companies that come out swinging and gain competitive advantage. These tend to be the ones that act early, take a long-term perspective, and focus their efforts on growth, not just cost-cutting. Their leaders balance defensive alignment with an offensive attack. The impulse to defend is powerful, but it is also commonplace. Offense demands overcoming fear and the courage to try any combination of new ideas. Smart leaders in every industry recognize that they now have unbounded freedom to innovate. They know, as economist Paul Romer once said, that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

It is in a crisis that corporate helmsmen show their mettle. Now is the time to ask yourself: are we steering or drifting? When the distancing ends, where will you be?

Say Yes to Physical Distancing, No to Social Distancing

As we confront the Coronavirus, physical separation is essential, a non-negotiable strategy. Social distancing is the opposite: unnecessary and complicating. We mustn’t confuse the two. In her now-famous Ted Talk, Brene Brown states that human beings are social animals. We fear disconnection and isolation. The idea of distancing ourselves socially runs … Continue reading

Communicating THROUGH the Coronavirus

A confluence of forces has changed all of our worlds overnight. Most leaders and their companies have been sprinting fast in a robust corporate world and just smashed into a brick wall. How do you communicate THAT? That’s our business, and at Decker, we are communicating directly to our employees … Continue reading

The Breakdown of ‘Assume’

Hopefully I don’t need to break down the word as some will joke, however, we all assume too much. We assume people know what we mean, we assume people appreciate an effort or a message we share. We assume THEY know what WE are thinking. They don’t, so let’s be … Continue reading

View from the 40th Floor: Change at the Top and Bottom

(Part 4 of a series by Bert Decker) “If we don’t change our model, we are going to crash.”  Those were the words of the leader of one of our multi-billion dollar clients, which accents the amazing changes in leadership over the last 40 years.  As we close out the decade, … Continue reading

The Power of Likability – Have No Missed Opportunities!

When someone runs for President of the United States, and a regret they have is that they were possibly “too serious” – that’s a learning moment for all of us. “I did feel a heavy sense of responsibility. I wasn’t as loose or open as I could have been.” This … Continue reading

“I” Language Doesn’t Influence

A few times a week, I endure a rigorous indoor cycle class where all I want is a decent workout. As a communication junkie, what I’ve noticed (and that bugs me more and more) is the use of “I” language. Now, I get that we all learned the importance of … Continue reading

Be Brief. Be Bright. Be Gone.

“…and the long and short of it is?” Sometimes, we feel compelled to prove how much research we’ve done, how much credibility we have and how thorough we’ve been by sharing every little detail. Problem is, when we do that, people tune out, and we lose the ability to influence. … Continue reading

Less Can Be More

A few weeks ago, this video stood out to me because of Cameron Smith’s reaction to he and Jonas Blixt’s win at the 2017 Zurich Classic. He said nothing—yet he said so much. It’s the power of raw emotion. It’s amazing how many leaders we work with who put up … Continue reading

Tail That Wagged The Dog

“Why does a dog wags its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.” I remember in ’97, when the movie ‘Wag the Dog’ came out—it got me thinking about things or people that control things, who really shouldn’t. … Continue reading