The Path to Reopening – Leadership in Times of Crisis

May 9, 2020

By Dave Bushy

In the past two months, I have had the opportunity to witness teams facing the most challenging situations they have ever experienced. It is an honor to be working with such remarkable leaders during these times, be they involved with companies, governmental groups or non-profit organizations.

Daily, I learn how they regularly meet the challenges of this crisis.  The teams and their leaders do it with ingenuity, caring and a focus on problem-solving and learning.  While each story is unique, there is a remarkable consistency in how the best leaders and the strongest teams approach the situations they are now facing.

The path to reopening is a subject that is both fraught with emotion and shaded with a multitude of opinions.  The teams that meet the challenges seek to embrace and understand those aspects of the crisis and then bring to bear tools that serve them in any circumstance.

These include:

  • Common Vision – Each team shares a common vision.   
  • Trust – The teams trust each other and adhere to a set of norms that allows for exploration of issues, problems and potential solutions.
  • Open Conversation – They achieve the vision and trust through open and occasionally fierce conversation.  The leader is often the catalyst.  And yet the strongest leaders are confident enough to allow members of their team to take turns leading discussion and problem-solving – becoming “situational leaders” when the timing is right.  The team members welcome and allow wide variances of opinion and work hard to define their real objectives and desired outcomes.
  • Framing the Problem – They hone in on those objectives and outcomes by first agreeing to what they are trying to solve.  Problem solving’s first step is all about awareness.  Think about an algebraic equation – you have to define what you are “solving for” before you begin the headwork that it takes to get to the answer.  Problems are no different.  In the context of reopening our businesses and our lives, individuals and teams must ask themselves a simple binary question, “Do we want to reopen?”  It is important that the team members remain mindful that the answer to the question is not, “Yes, but…” or “Let’s talk about everything that’s going on in the world,” or even “I’m fearful about it.”  Those points are important and should be addressed prior to “calling the question.”  They come before problem-solving.  If the answer to reopening then emerges as “yes,” then the teams can pursue more open-ended inquiry to solve the equation.
  • “Yes, and.”  Teams can solve the equation by using two powerful words: “Yes, and.”  It is, in many respects, an unremarkable saying that provides truly remarkable results in its application.  During discussion, each person, in turn, builds on the last person’s statement and adds to it.  It is completely opposite to someone who says “Yes, but,” which stops an idea right in its tracks.  It is important to recognize that it does not foreclose challenges you may face – it just invites an optimistic stance that works to solve the problem.

In the past two months, so many of us have had to accept what might have been previously unacceptable.  The framing of the issue and the problem we were solving for at the onset of the crisis was mandated and was not even binary: “You must close; or you must socially distance.”  New ways of work had to be invented to operate corporations and essential businesses. We rose to the occasion and came up with solutions we might never have considered.  Effectively, the problem was framed for us and we then moved forward with “yes, and” to figure it out.

The reopening equation, inasmuch as it is not forced onto us, can lead us to indecision and uncertainty.  By being firm about what we want – and what we need as companies and for our society – we can use team problem-solving techniques to figure it out.

Just as bold decisions curtailed the spread of the virus, bold decisions will need to be made to safely reopen our businesses, our country and our lives.  We cannot be timid with decisions and must use our strength of boldness.  It took courage to close. It will now take courage to open.

If we exercise prudence – not panic – today, and understand the very real concerns that must be addressed, we all can work together to answer the “Yes, we want to reopen.”  We can then follow it up with a series of “Yes, and …” with ideas to achieve it safely.  That is how we can move forward and catalyze our teams – and our society – for the action that is required today.

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – – is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry.  He experienced the challenges of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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