Just over ten years ago I was in the crisis control centre at one of the UK's largest companies. My agency then was working with their board on a major crisis response exercise (funnily enough, the scenario was a pandemic).
I expected glass walls and big screens. In reality it was a small airless room in the basement, with a telephone, a whiteboard and a fax machine.
But, of course, it's not gadgets streaming data into a hi-tech room that matter in a crisis. What matters really is the leader themselves. Their character, their values, and their motivations — and from these, their ability to face up to bad news.
Bad leaders want to be popular, shying away from bad news. It's not really a crisis. If it is, it'll all be over soon. And if it goes on longer we'll just start pretending it's fine. Hurrah!
But the repeated knock-backs from false hopes meeting hard reality are what gradually breaks the spirit of those they lead.
Good leaders don't care about being popular, they care about ensuring the best outcome. In a crisis good leaders tell the bad news straight, pulling no punches. Then they show how we can improve on that situation through collective effort, acting as a whole for the benefit of everyone. They are honest about how hard that will be, how long it will take, and that there'll be setbacks. They inspire genuine hope for a better future, even though that is further away.
Good leaders know that trust is the currency of leadership, not popularity.
So, as some national leaders now seek to get 'back to normal' even as the pandemic enters a new wave, agency leaders will have to take the big decisions on their own shoulders that were previously laws and rules to be followed. What is safe really? How will we run things but still protect people? How can I support and look after my team?
In all these hard decisions, if we face up to bad news and act to build trust rather than popularity, we will be better leaders.
It's hard being a leader in these times — but this is when leadership is most needed. You've got this.
Last week I ran two of our workshop sessions. One on Healthy Agency Finances, and the other on Agency Positioning. It was brilliant to see agency leaders really click with the ideas and determined to put them into action. I love that energy and enthusiasm when founders get together and have a chance to work on their businesses. Our next workshops are coming up, and you can find details here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/convivio-19900773052
(Feedback from one delegate already: "I really enjoyed the training and I got a ton of value.")
We're launching a podcast for agency leaders. The focus will be on how to work on your agency as confidently and effectively as you work in it. Each episode we'll interview agency leaders, we'll share our experience, research and ideas. You can subscribe in your favourite podcast app now, so you get the first episode as soon as it's out: https://podcast.convivio.com/subscribe
Are you ready for Talent Turbulence or The Age of Unrest? These are two of the themes that emerged in our Agency Radar Report. Twice-yearly it maps out the key issues agency leaders need to consider in their strategic planning, and seeks to identify themes and trends. The first edition is out now and will be invaluable in planning for a challenging few years ahead: https://www.agencyradar.io/radar/
The report is available individually, but it's better value to subscribe to Agency Radar's premium level where it's included along with a lot of other useful briefings.