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Leadership Lessons From Corona: #2

October 23, 2020 by Twan van de Kerkhof

I interviewed 22 leaders about their leadership lessons during and beyond Covid-19. I summarized 7 key insights from these interviews. The second one is: Keep your eyes on the long run.

At first, leaders needed to act swiftly to counter the immediate negative consequences of the corona crisis. Then they stepped back and started thinking about how their organizations would come out of the crisis. Their mental dexterity was called upon. They not only considered the risks but also the opportunities. They realized that the choices they made at each turn could have long-term consequences.

Many leaders were keen to avoid getting stuck in the fire-fighting mode. That mode was necessary early in the crisis, but after that emergency-response, leaders consciously decided to dedicate time to discuss strategy with their team. They embraced the long view.

The best leaders also calibrated their moral compass. They knew that they could get away with making difficult choices, and would even be forgiven for choices that would have been debatable in normal times. Most, however, decided to stick to their principles and keep basing their actions on their purpose and values, knowing that there is no right way to do the wrong thing. They realized that these are the moments that matter and role-modelled the shared values.

The corona crisis is an ‘infinite game’ (a book by Simon Sinek). We are all in this together, as individuals and countries, for the long term. Finite games have clear rules, well-defined beginnings and endings, and clear winners and losers. Infinite games have fuzzy rules, no clearly defined ‘win’, and players can change the way they play anytime. The objective is to keep playing for as long as possible. Business is an infinite game where players have different strategies, and there is no end to the game. Companies emerge, grow, and become bankrupt while the infinite game goes on. To succeed in this infinite game, shift the focus from ‘winning’ every quarter to building resilient organizations that can last many decades. Long-term interests of the company can be threatened when you play with a finite mindset in the infinite game of business. An obsession with short-term metrics prioritizes urgency over importance, which leads to disastrous strategies and extreme cost cutting measures.