Turning Disruption into Innovation: How to Lead Through COVID-19


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By The Bedford Leadership Team

The time to lead with decisive action and navigate a crisis successfully is upon us.  The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting businesses in every sector across the globe. But with this adversity comes an unprecedented opportunity. The truly great leaders can take this disruption, learn from it and turn it into extraordinary innovation. As former Chicago Mayor and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste… it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

What follows is our professional advice and analysis of five key learning opportunities to help you lead through this crisis and beyond.

1.BE COMPASSIONATE. Understandably, many people are concerned if not fearful about health and well-being as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps they have been personally affected. Therefore, it is especially imperative to show your teams unwavering compassion and empathy. If they need some paid time off, be flexible. Show generosity. At Bedford, for example, we are making donations to food banks in this time of need. Shopify is providing a $1,000 stipend to staff to purchase office supplies as they transition to working from home. These types of gestures show that you – and the organization – truly care and that will resonate meaningfully with your employees.

2.REINVENT WORKING REMOTELY. With so many companies (including ours) deciding all staff should work remotely to avoid further contagion, you as a leader have an excellent case study in the making to see just how far remote working can go. You’ll see how well technology, such as videoconferencing and shared network platforms, perform on a massive scale. You can stress test how productive employees are at home. Learn how to keep your teams engaged, motivated and inspired when they are socially distanced. And you can do a cost benefit analysis about office space and productivity. For example, according to The Economist, British and American firms pay about $5,000 per employee in annual rental costs. This is a critical leadership opportunity to assess the effectiveness and efficiencies of remote work and reinvent how to do it the best.

3.COMMUNICATE PROACTIVELY & CREATIVELY. One of the best ways to gain employee and client confidence in your capacity to lead through adversity is proactive communication. If you don’t communicate what you and the company are doing to tackle this crisis head-on and what your contingency plans are, it will only lead to speculation, misinformation and uncertainty. If you keep the lines of communication open and via multiple mediums, you can reassure, create certainty and cultivate confidence that you are ensuring business continuity. This is also an amazing opportunity to be creative with different approaches to communication, be it email, text/instant messaging, social media, phone, video or discovering something entirely new.

4.NURTURE NEW LEADERS. The complexity, severity and fluidity of a pandemic presents a special opportunity to see who on your bench steps up to the plate and hits home runs. This is a chance to take those talented people and really nurture their leadership capabilities. Listen to their ideas. Invite them to be change agents. Observe how they bring your culture and core values to life. And when you see how they handle grace under fire, you can put them on a succession track to advance as your future leaders.

5.TAKE STOCK OF YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN. There is a reason why toilet paper and a host of other products are in very short supply. Businesses are getting increasingly lean with supply chain practices, to avoid waste and excess inventory. Bloomberg data shows Apple carries less than 10 days of inventory in stock in the interests of efficiencies, cost savings, etc. But when a health tsunami like this hits, it seriously calls into question how lean of a machine you should be running. Use this situation to take stock of your supply chain. See if your third party suppliers should increase their inventories. Update or develop a comprehensive pandemic plan for your operations. Do things differently so that those shelves at the supermarket, pharmacy, hospital and your very own warehouses, aren’t idle when people are in desperate need.

This challenge is unique and is a true test of leadership. Those who take action, communicate transparently, show compassion and empathy, have the courage to try novel technology, leverage emerging talent and learn how to innovate, are the leaders who will thrive.