CIO Leadership: Courageous and Transformational Leadership is Required for Managing Through a Global Crisis

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The global economy is reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as markets and governments struggle to develop practical strategies for managing through this crisis of truly historic proportions. Financial markets continue to plunge; trading in the U.S. was halted early this morning following  a 7 percent drop in the S&P 500 that triggered a “circuit breaker,” according to The New York Times.

Also this morning, economist Mohamed El-Erian predicted a prolonged and gradual recovery. Reluctantly, I agree with him. It feels as though we are at the beginning of a long and difficult trek back to normalcy. It is impossible for anyone to predict how many months or years this journey will take. As technology leaders, we need to think like CEOs and genuinely consider the long-term consequences of our decisions.

From my perspective, now is the time to double down on existing markets and customers. We need to reimagine and reinvent the products and services we provide, with the clear understanding that markets are shifting dramatically. Additionally, we need to envision new go-to-market strategies, and develop the platforms for supporting and enabling those strategies. Together, we are experiencing an intense period of radical disruption and transformational change.

At this point, it seems likely the pandemic will become a defining moment in our careers. As leaders, we will be judged on the quality and effective of our response to this challenge.

Here are six immediate steps:

  1. Revisit, review and update capabilities for supporting remote work over extended periods of time. Security, reliability and resiliency of remote work capabilities are absolutely critical.
  2. Strengthen capabilities for enabling remote leadership. Business cultures will be forced to adapt quickly in order to maintain efficiency and avoid losing productivity.
  3. Communicate with employees and partners at regular intervals throughout the day. Keep your people informed, updated and aware of any changes in workflow or process management.
  4. Break the challenge into three manageable components: People, Process and Technology. We used this type of approach during the era of ERP transformation, and it has proven its utility beyond measure.
  5. Provide courageous leadership. Show people you care deeply and that you’re willing to go the extra mile to help them solve their problems. In times like these, everyone needs reassurance.
  6. Be honest. Don’t sugarcoat the truth or attempt to hide the complexity of the challenges ahead. We are just entering the storm, and it might take years for our economies to fully recover.

I realize this is a burden, but our responsibilities are inescapable. As technology leaders, we know how to solve problems. Our colleagues, customer and stakeholders expect us to step up and provide effective solutions.

Here are four questions we all need to ask ourselves:

  1. Do we have the people, the processes and the appropriate technologies in place for not only surviving the current crisis, but emerging stronger and more flexible when it’s over?
  2. Will our communications networks handle the additional loads placed on them?
  3. Do our vendors understand the urgency of the situation and have we briefed them on our plans for managing through the crisis?
  4. Do our managers and supervisors fully understand how to leverage the digital collaboration tools and platforms necessary for handling a remote workforce?

I speak and write often about the need for courageous leadership. Today is definitely the time for bold, truthful and inspiring leadership. We owe that to all the people who count on us to provide expertise and guidance.

Make no mistake: the COVID-19 outbreak will become a test of our leadership abilities. This is only the beginning of a long and arduous trek into unexplored territory. I am confident that we will discover the solutions and devise practical strategies for coping with the realities of this new environment.

As I wrote earlier this week, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has become a transformational event in our lives and careers. As technology leaders, our colleagues and business partners will surely look to us for guidance, advice and reassurance. They will also rely upon us to help them develop and implement practical frameworks and programs for managing through these difficult times.

From my perspective, we definitely have the strengths and experiences required for handling periods of turbulence and uncertainty. The hard lessons we learned as the world shifted dramatically toward digital commerce models will prove incredibly valuable in today’s rapidly evolving landscape.

As a group, we have a unique view of complex transformational processes. In other words, we know how to get things done and we’re not afraid to tackle hard problems.

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