Leaders Find a Way Forward
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

The future could be unclear and uncertain for you right now. Your time may be filled with crisis management, fear of the unknown, questions you can’t answer, and disruption of much of what you were doing on a daily basis. These are challenging times. Leaders are truly tested during these times. How we respond is so critical.

As a military trained leader, I was intentionally placed under stress to test how I would respond. The test was used to prepare for war and its challenges. It also created muscle memory to prepare for combat. I did not actually go to war, but I served with many combat veterans and know many of them. When I was a young officer, I would spend time with them so I could learn from them. The lessons I learned have been critical to me – and they may be helpful to you in this time of pandemic. In my opinion, the closest experience to a pandemic may be war. The difference is we are all in it together to fight and defeat COVID-19 and what it is doing to our way of life.

Combat is chaos. We had plans, we prepared our soldiers, we secured and maintained our equipment. Then the war starts, and it does not go the way it was planned. We used to say, “the plan is perfect until the bullets start to fly.” In combat exercises, I saw this every time. We would have a plan and then we would need to make modifications – usually in a very significant way. We would plan daily – then need to adjust our plans, sometimes significantly and all day long. Each day, we attempted to execute against the daily plan that was tied to our goal and mission of winning. But during the day, that very plan would change and we would need to adjust again – and again – and again. This amount of stress and change was hard on people’s emotions. The highs and lows that could be experienced in a day – or even in an hour – needed to be dealt with.

People can’t control their feelings. We can only ask them to control how they act on those feelings. Calmness and decisiveness are the hallmarks of outstanding leaders in a time of war. These same attributes can serve leaders well during this crisis. Decisions must be made calmly and yet they must be made. They must be made with the best information possible using the best plan we have at this moment. The plan will keep changing and new decisions will need to be made. This creates another cycle of stress, dealing with the stress, finding calmness, and making decisions. The cycle in combat or crisis is repeated over and over again. In doing so, leaders can build muscle memory on how to be calm, make decisions based on the best data they have right now, and carry out the decision to the best of their abilities. As leaders, we will not do this well at first and we will never be perfect at it. However, that is all we can ask of ourselves and other leaders around us.

Leaders are human too. They will not be perfect. But good leaders can become great leaders when they help us move forward in the most challenging times. Forward movement and dealing with the situation at hand is a learned skill practiced during times of challenges. This challenge will test leaders. Rising to the challenge is what is needed most.

How are you handling the stressful leadership challenges in front of you? What can you do to remain calm so you can still make necessary decisions? How are you helping others remain calm so they can make the best decisions available now? Are you prepared to pivot and change, sometimes rapidly, during this crisis? How can you help others pivot and make rapid changes?

Being calm, and yet making good decisions, in the moment is what your team and family need.  Doing this will aid your team and it will strengthen you, those who depend on you, and our community. We need you to do this to the best of your ability. I know you can do this. How? I have seen just how good our business and community leaders are. I am confident we will overcome the challenges before us together. Be Calm. Stay Safe. Carry On.