In Times of Crisis, Lead from the Front
BrandExtract's Bo Bothe on finding your focus in turbulent times
Authenticity. That is what Bo Bothe says is the driving factor behind a brand's continued success. It is about urging companies to focus their energy on crafting a promise that fits their unique mission, vision, values and culture. Since founding BrandExtract, Bothe has applied this philosophy in guiding a growing number of local, regional and international rebranding efforts. We sat down with him to get his thoughts on what business leaders should do (and know) when crises like COVID-19 hit.
When does a crisis hit that moment of impact, i.e., when is it time to start thinking about your strategy?
Immediately. Having gone through three major economic shocks in our business, we have arrived at the point where we look at everything right away: debt, client health, AR, AP, ratios, etc. Then we look at overhead and staff. The key is using your strategy/vision to make calls after you review everything. What can you cut that will not impact your core competency? What do you have to hang on to at all costs? What is a waste or problem that needs to be corrected? What have you been kicking down the road? The intent is not to overreact, but to find a way to do more than survive in a crisis.
Why is it important for a brand to keep its poise and presence in the face of such change?
Consistency. Brands must be consistent with their mission, vision and values. Panic is not an option. Your audience is looking to you for confidence. That said, you cannot act like nothing is wrong either. You must do things that are appropriate for the time. For example, you might be worried about new business, but in this current environment, someone calling to sell you something that is not essential seems a little tone-deaf. You have to stick to what you have always been, that is hard in times like these.
Why is it important to maintain open communications with your employees and community/customers?
Do the right thing. This is our main core value. All of them are important, but this one is the most challenging and the best one. You must be honest with everyone about what is going on. That does not mean you scare them, but you have to put enough out there so that they all understand the gravity of the situation. Being honest with them makes it easier on the leadership team that may have to do some harsh things and the employees/customers who can at least prepare.
There is a balance here for sure. You need to provide hope and belief, but you cannot provide false hope or belief. You also can benefit from making hard decisions quickly. Being clear about your intentions, honest and open about what you are doing, humble about how you do it, and swift to act makes things so much better in the long run.
What is the role of leadership? What is the best top-down strategy?
Lead from the front. In his book, "What You Do Is Who You Are," Ben Horowitz explains why leading from the front helps show the behaviour you want. In crazy times, leadership must make good decisions and mirror the way you want your team to act. Panic begets panic, calm begets calm, passive begets passive, etc.
You need to be real; you need to be present and you need to be honest. Nothing should feel top-down other than perspective and action. These are times where a good leader should be able to watch her team lead themselves if you have done it the right way. If they are not prepared to do that, you must be in the trenches, in all the meetings showing the way. It is tiring, but that is the best type of top-down approach if you have to use it.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to other leaders in how to deal with the unthinkable?
Make well-thought-out, quick decisions with compassion and honesty. There are things you should share with your team and other things you should not. Being honest and communicating directly does not mean saying everything. We have really screwed this up before. We have dragged our feet, contemplated too long, justified decisions, and tried to be really nice. The reality is that your job is to determine the path out of this and look at the greater good. Sometimes that is something small, sometimes it is wholesale change. But your people look to you to lead.