CEO Challenges: I’m On My Heels and Winter Is Coming! Now What?

A fellow executive coach and I had a good call recently when he suggested that most everyone is on their heels right now, both in business and personally, and the future is foggy. As I’ve been a longtime proponent of slowing the game down and asking the right questions, I thought I’d share a few that I believe are appropriate for leaders who find themselves on their heels in this unstable environment.

What do I need to do to stay healthy? The flight briefing says, “Put your own oxygen mask on first before attempting to help others” and there is a reason. The same goes for your physical and mental health. I put this question first because it should be asked first! I also posed the question in an active way, focusing on behaviors, because you need to make the list and then find a way to act upon it each day! You cannot lead well if you are not healthy.

My coworkers have the same anxiety that I do, so how can I help alleviate that? After you’ve put your oxygen mask on, how can you help your fellow travelers put on theirs? One of the tough things about being “in charge” is that you often have to provide a bit of certainty and confidence when you’re in short supply of both. By the way, to find the answer to this question, Ask them!

Is our strategy still relevant? This is really a series of questions that should be asked on a frequent basis in a time of dramatic change, including: Has our business model become obsolete? What is the underlying need we are addressing and is there a better way? What does the near-term and mid-term future look like and how do we need to change what we are doing? Have our internal capabilities been disrupted and how do we fix that? This is not a five-year strategic planning process, but rather a dialogue to be had with your senior team and trusted advisors on a frequent basis.

Are the answers to the more fundamental questions (e.g. purpose, values, vision) still accurate? (See 7 Questions to Align Your Company. I’m serious! Go look now and print it out for future reference. You can come back here afterwards.)

What new resources, techniques and behaviors do I need to be successful now and in the near future? Do you need funding? Does the way you operate need to change to be successful? Do you have a need for different skills in the organization now than you did a year ago? Given the changes to your business, how should you best spend your time?

Take a day out of the office and away from Zoom and ponder these. Perhaps do it with your senior team. You’ll be a better leader as a result and a bit less anxious.

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