Archives May 2020

4 Ways Forward When There is No Map

​ The coronavirus pandemic has generated tremendous uncertainty for businesses. But while the scale of the crisis is new, uncertainty itself is not—it’s a natural condition of doing business, and numerous tools exist to quantify and mitigate it.

 Most strategies rely on accumulated knowledge from the past—there’s a precedent on which to make sense of unknowns. COVID-19 breaks all that.

There is no precedent for how to respond to this moment, much less steer ahead.

 The biggest challenge to businesses right now isn’t uncertainty, but ambiguity—a condition in which the future is unclear, the past is no help, and we don’t even know what we don’t know. There’s no predicting when the pandemic will end, nor what “business as usual” will look like when it does.

Understanding that organizations are facing a broad range of challenges and have varying capacities, the question becomes, how might businesses create new ways to push ahead intelligently?

Being exceedingly human can offer leaders an alternate set of mindsets and methods for navigating ambiguity.

Here are four ways forward, along with inspiring examples and questions to drive action.

Read about the crisis no one saw coming.

Lead with people, and the business will follow.

Perhaps the most well-known design thinking model suggests that innovation occurs at the intersection of what the consumer wants, business viability, and technical feasibility. Many leaders are mired in thinking about what’s possible in this new world (technical feasibility) and what the economic impact of COVID-19 might be (business viability). While a pivot of your business model may be critical to staying afloat, it’s essential not to forget to lead with people.

Focusing on customers’ needs is a way to rally a company and employees around a purposeful cause.

It also offers focus and clarity operationally and strategically and points to a clear path forward that can deliver value. 

Questions to inspire action: 

  • How are our core customers’ needs changing right now? How can we deliver on those needs during the pandemic?
  • Who can we learn from in our organization that is closest to the needs of our people, partners, and consumers? Better yet, how might we engage with our people, partners, and consumers directly to learn from them?


Forge unexpected partnerships

Read  more about partnering up with your boss

Part of what makes the current changes, so complex is their scale.

It’s inspiring to see examples of companies redirecting their capabilities toward urgent needs—distilleries using their alcohol to produce hand sanitizer, automakers shifting to produce ventilators and respirators. But this kind of quick adaptation isn’t simple, and the opportunity isn’t always clear. Stepping outside of our domains and even our companies to connect can help. 

Pivoting calls for processing viewpoints from different departments and types of thinkers. Some companies are relying on open innovation, which can be used internally to break down silos, or externally to find new partners to bring ideas to life.

Leaders need to challenge their humility and courage and open up to anyone involved in business to work together to find partners, develop new offerings, and secure funding. 

Questions to inspire action: 

  • What points of view are we missing on our team, and how might they help us uncover opportunities and identify blind spots? 
  • Who can we partner with right now to deliver something unique or previously impossible to our teams, business, or society?


Experiment today to strengthen the business for tomorrow 


The time has never been better to experiment. This means considering fundamental changes in business and operating models out of necessity, while also prototyping new channels, offerings, pricing structures, and value propositions. 

Experimenting doesn’t have to result in a full-scale business model transformation or a polished new offering. This is a moment of extreme leniency: Customers will forgive scrappiness and even mistakes, and they’ll appreciate effort and vulnerability from organizations that try. Moreover, experimenting in low-fidelity ways allows teams to iterate, minimize costs, and preserve optionality quickly. In other words, there’s little investment required for a potentially high return.

Read about driving innovation through curiosity.

Questions to inspire action: 

  • If we’re in an all-hands-on-deck moment, is there a group of employees that can start to think about how we might operate differently during COVID-19?
  • What are simple experiments we could run in the next few days?
  • If we’re able to dedicate time and resources, how might we use this moment to challenge the fundamental assumptions of our business and industry?
  • What are the simple experiments we could run in the next few weeks?


Leverage scarcity 

It’s understandable to feel an overall sense of scarcity right now.

Organizations are inundated with legal, health, social, and operating constraints. It may seem counterintuitive, but limitations often create generative circumstances for growth and innovation. A recent study on innovation in crisis found that during the Great Depression. At the same time, the total number of patents decreased, but the average level of quality increased, which increased the overall impact of the innovation.

Questions to inspire action: 

  • How might we turn these new constraints into the cornerstones of our business?
  • What is the core promise or value we provide to customers?
  • How might we repurpose the assets that we still have to keep delivering on this promise or value?

 Please read about my biggest business mistake

Final Thoughts

We are in challenging times.

Leaders are called to make difficult decisions about strategy, operations, and people.

As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters, we can find ways for ambiguity to be an aid rather than an impediment to progress.

Human led mindsets like empathy, collaboration, experimentation, and even scarcity can be guiding lights along the way.

NOW Is Exactly The Time To Invest In Identifying Your Next Generation of Leaders

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is easy to look good and behave well when everything around you is going well. If you want to see what a person is made of, put the pressure on them.

When a routine is thrown into the air, when people are stressed out, when employees are under unimaginable pressures, it is precisely the time when you want to test people for leadership potential.

Dozens of times in my life I have seen the sharpest, best & fittest soldier in the barracks or on the parade square fall to pieces under the leadership pressures, of lack of sleep, bad weather and the intensity of combat.

But the quiet person, the calm and steady one, the least suspecting man or woman rise to the moment and steps up into leadership like a well-fitted suit when given the opportunity.

In a recent post, I explored the difference between those high-performance employees and those who have high potential.

Read that post here

When looking for your next generation of leaders, it makes sense to cultivate the most extensive pool you can manage and explore who is stepping up during the current pandemic.

Start asking yourself:

Who is quietly leading their teams and their coworkers?

Who is the person other employees look to for help and guidance instead of existing managers?

Who is bringing the ideas forward?

When thinking about the future executives should stop old-school thinking by stopping these common errors:

  1. Overvaluing job performance and undervalue character traits.
  2. Promoting people who look, talk, act, and manage as they do.
  3. Undervaluing opinions of your employees.

Performance Matters. But Potential Matters More.

Then, when looking for leaders, you can focus less on performance and more on actual leadership skills, like

  • Curiosity;
  • Emotional intelligence; or the
  • Ability to communicate.

Read more about Emotional Intelligence.

When trying to identify future leaders, merely skimming from the top layer of job performers is seldom the best strategy.

Look for People Willing to Try Different Solutions — and Accept the Consequences

Pointing out problems is easy.

What is harder is to come up with solutions.

Even harder? Have the wisdom to change things when the first solution doesn’t work.

Great leaders aren’t only those with the best ideas. They’re also willing to accept responsibility for the decisions they’ve made: especially their failures. That’s what inspires other people.

So when looking for leaders, it’s not only essential to search for creative thinkers. You also want to find people with the courage to fail, publicly, and to re-evaluate their strategies accordingly.

The Best Leaders Are Not Always Those Who Talk the Most

Studies show that people who talk the most in meetings tend to get their performance rated as more intelligent, and they overwhelmingly tend to be male.

Put differently, those people who seem to be leading in group settings may, in fact, not be leading at all – they’re just talking a lot. 

Consider that maybe the best leader is the person best able to build consensus or is the quiet person who waits to speak but always comes up with the most forward-thinking solution.

Some leaders may be quite successful with personal projects.

Point being, many successful people keep their wins to their selves.

Read about boastful leadership

Trust Your Employees’ Opinions

Too many executives tend to imagine that they can easily pick out leadership potential, but relying only on your own opinions can limit the range of people you notice.

Here’s a different idea: ask your employees what they think.

Every once in a while, ask all employees who, other than themselves, they think possesses the most leadership potential.

Whom would they follow into uncharted territory?

To whom would they most trust their jobs or the future of the company?

This bottom-up approach to identifying leaders can pay huge dividends: you’re not only telling your employees that you value their opinions but also locating people whom employees already look for guidance.

High Performance is not the same as High Potential

We have all seen that employee, the one so good at their job no one can hold a candle to them.

I have seen it a thousand times: the soldier who was the best shot in the Regiment; the carpenter who built houses that could withstand a hurricane; or, the warehouseman that knew where everything was.

All of these people and many, many more are examples of high performers.

But that soldier was always in trouble; the carpenter was promoted and failed as a supervisor, and the warehouseman would never give the last box of widgets out because he would have none left.

A soldier who can only do one thing and does not get along with his peers is not a good soldier.

The warehouseman that cannot see his job as more than neat rows of shelves is a detriment to your operations.

And the world is full of poor site-superintendents who were, at one time, great carpenters,

Of course, functional ability and competency are essential.

But the difference between high performance and a high potential is something you can easily spot.

What does it look like?




Consistently exceed expectations, have a track record of getting the job done.

Have demonstrated am initial aptitude for their technical abilities.
Take pride in their accomplishments.  The high performers determine their standards when it comes to quality results.
 May not have the potential (or desire) to succeed in a higher-level role. Have the ability and the aspiration to be successful leaders within an organization.
Need constant encouragement and challenging assignments. Work to understand the business on a deeper level and how they can have the biggest impact on its success.



There is nothing wrong with high performance, we need these technically advanced people in our organization, and we need to reward and motivate them respectfully and fairly.

But DO NOT confuse High Performance with leadership potential.

As organizational leaders, we need to be ever vigilant to the High Potential people in our companies because they are often quiet and unassuming compared to their high performing coworkers.

You can often hire technical expertise.

But you may never find that one leader you need to ensure your organization has the health and strength to succeed!