Leadership during times of trouble
Truth and Compassion
Leading an essential services company
There are many metaphors describing how leadership shines through during a crisis. With
Covid-19 we are experiencing an unprecedented crisis. Throughout history individuals,
families and communities have suffered immense hardships, yet we have always persevered.
Life goes on.
What is interesting is whether leadership is the fulcrum for success. There will always be
leaders, some with skills better suited for managing a crisis. Winston Churchill comes to mind
as the greatest war time Prime Minister, but was not re-elected in the peace time that
followed. Different times require different types of leaders.
As we grapple with the difficulties that this pandemic has created, let us consider how we
approach business. There are two fundamental concepts that I wish to explore: truth and
compassion. This is an approach that may assist organizations and businesses to come to
terms with what they are doing and what they need to do.
Reverting to Winston Churchill, he would allocate a certain amount of time during the
afternoon, to nap and to think. He instructed his team not to disturb him even if the King of
England wanted to speak to him. This ability to take time out and think is an effective tool
during times of crisis. This allocated time is precious, and we must use it wisely.
One of my routines will be to cycle through tasks and rearrange priorities. These priorities can
be reviewed by challenging and thinking through what constitutes fundamental structures of
our business. You can look at the fundamental structures in many different ways. One way I
find useful is to look at truth and compassion as fundamental pillars of a business.
The truth. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought very clear focus on what is essential to our
lives and our economies. Blue sky forecasts and promises of the future do not create wealth.
Businesses must focus on what is essential. Peripheral activities that do not add value to our
lives have fallen away. Sadly, this has meant that businesses are having to let people go. The
truth is that the business didn’t need those activities and those people.
And then how about businesses that have come to a complete halt such as travel and
hospitality? This is where compassion has to balance truth. Compassion allows us to explore
alternatives. Do we really need to have such a diverse remuneration spread between the
lowest paid worker and the highest paid? Could we allow for a better work life balance
instead? Only by allowing compassion can the truth be managed.
This is a good time to review value in a truthful way. Value is not a comparison nor is it
differentiation. So many people measure their worth against what others earn in the market,
not against the value they bring to the organization. The Covid-19 has highlights truth in the
equation – cost to company should be balanced by value brought to the company.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated the process where businesses have focused on
what they truly are. Kazuo Inamori-san, the founder of Kyocera, steered a discussion I had
with him about a new technology by asking me to define the value of the technology. He was
not interested in how it compared to other technologies, he was interested in how it could
enhance the lives of our customers. Inamori-san focused on creating value and steered away
from seeking competitive advantages. Be truthful about the value you bring and not to be
overly concerned about what others do.
Truth must also be used as a tool to manage our workforce. As we have been forced to create
remote teams and working from home, managers need their employees to be truthful about
how they work. Being truthful to each other. So again, we need to be able to articulate and
measure real value. It is not about how many hours you spend in the office or at your dinner
table at home, it is about delivering value. Teams must deliver outcomes not just working
We are forced to look at ourselves using truth as the measure. Every day, as these challenges
of safe distancing and lockdowns impact our business we must all appreciate the reality of
the situation and know this, we will prevail. We will persevere and look to ensure that the
fulcrum of leadership leans towards success. This idea was described by Jim Collins in his
bestseller Good to Great as the “Stockdale Paradox”. Only by having faith that we will prevail
and by facing the harsh realities of today we will overcome.
There are many layers of truth and there is truth inside compassion. How we conduct
ourselves in these difficult times and how compassionate we are will determine our legacy.
Chief Executive Officer
Royal Greyhound Pte Ltd – an essential services company