Chart a Path

Chart a Path

This is the fourth in a series of articles designed to help you lead through the COVID-19 crisis in a way that sets you and your organization up for success afterward.

In Step 1 we discussed Perspective and how it shapes every action you take. It is cross-cutting.

In Step 2 we discussed Purpose as the reason for everything you do. It is your rock. It is foundational.

In Step 3 we discussed why Passion is vitally important to high performance. It is a key element of your propulsion system. It is cross-cutting and foundational.

In this step we discuss the importance of charting a course for pursuing your Purpose, especially in light of current conditions.

If you’re short on time, key takeaways and action plans are listed at the end. Let’s continue…


Nowhere are your leadership skills more evident than in developing and clearly communicating a well-laid out Path toward your preferred future… your Vision.

Your Vision is what you hope to become or achieve. All of your organization’s efforts should be aligned to and focused on that Vision. Your plan to get to the Vision should lay out an adaptable path to get you there. Note the key word “adaptable,” which is so important these days. More about that below.

That Path outlines the plans and resources needed to get from where you are today to where you want to be. This is how you execute on your Purpose (Mission).

There are many obstacles that can relegate an organization to mediocrity. Failing to have a well laid out Path for your organization to follow is a self-inflicted obstacle.

But you may be asking yourself these days, how can I plan when everything is so uncertain due to the COVID-19 crisis? The fact that there is health and economic peril around every corner with no clear end in sight makes it very difficult to deal with. Well, simply put, you cannot afford not to plan. Having a plan provides for firmer footsteps as you go through this season.

The world is a dynamic place as these last 3-4 weeks have reminded us. Without a plan, the uncontrollable winds of the world will blow you around. Nobody wants to work in that environment or follow leaders who lead like that. Now, more than ever, your team needs a plan. So how do you create one?

Begin with the end in mind

In his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s second habit is: Begin with the end in mind. This is one of those universal truths that is just plain good advice for business and life. But, again, the virus situation is so uncertain it clouds that end. Or does it?

Actually, there are two things that shouldn’t change during a crisis… your Vision and Values. Your Values are enduring. In crisis we find out if there’s a gap between a leader’s words and his/her actions. If your actions in bad times don’t match your words from the good times, you will lose your people’s trust. Not much good will come from that.

Your Vision is long-term. What we’re facing is near-term. For sure some things in this world will never be the same because of the pandemic. But your ultimate long-term goals as an organization probably are not going to get altered too much, if at all.

A visionary leader is not one who can see the future. A visionary leader is one who manages with the Vision in mind. Yes, this is a pandemic. Yes, it has been terribly destructive. But don’t let the near-term distraction, derail your long-term Vision.

Keeping sight of your long-term lends stability to your near-term. It gives a steady point to aim at while adjusting your rudder and sails to the current prevailing winds.

Your Path not only tells where you are going, but also where you are not going. We all work with limited resources. It is just as important to know where you are not going as it is to know where you are going. Having a clear Path enables you to focus and prioritize the use of your resources.

Most organizations use some form of a strategic planning process. If you don’t have one, there are many free resources available on the web. The Baldrige Award Excellence Criteria provide some great assessment questions for your strategic planning process and business continuity in a disaster or emergency. Whether you do formal strategic planning or informal planning, you need to have a Path that moves your organization toward your Vision. Knowing your destination and the Path significantly increases the odds of getting there!

Remain flexible

So, your Vision and Values aren’t going to change much, if at all. But you will need to adjust your day-to-day Mission to deal with the current reality. Almost no one foresaw the speed and the depth of the disruption caused by the corona virus. More than ever the current climate should remind you to keep your plans agile, flexible, and up-to-date.

That said, you want to deal with this or any crisis with the least disruptive intervention, lest you cause whiplash and/or long-term damage to your organization. We’ve all read both the heart-warming humanity-reaffirming stories and the horror stories of the way employees have been treated during this downturn. We can almost predict which organizations, by their level of compassion, will fare better through and after this crisis.

In fact, an HBR study from the 2007-2008 recession showed that organizations that had a multipronged approach to corrective actions fared the best in the recovery. Those that took drastic actions, especially with respect to their workforce, fared the worst.

According to their research, “companies that master the delicate balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow do well after a recession. Within this group, a subset that deploys a specific combination of defensive and offensive moves has the highest probability—37%—of breaking away from the pack. These companies reduce costs selectively by focusing more on operational efficiency than their rivals do, even as they invest relatively comprehensively in the future by spending on marketing, R&D, and new assets. Their multipronged strategy is the best antidote to a recession.”

Execute one step at a time

How does work normally get done in your organization? In giant leaps and bounds, or one step at a time? I suspect one step at a time. That’s the way work normally gets done everywhere. Since you can’t see to the end of this crisis with clarity yet, it forces you to live in the moment. That’s a blessing, because that’s the way work gets done anyway.

First, plan and execute the one or two steps in front of you that you can see. Focus on the steps right in front of you. You will likely have to be more creative than you have been.

  1. Assign ownership to each task. Nothing gets done until tasks are assigned to individuals.
  2. Fully resource the plan. If plans cut across your org chart, ensure that all parts of the Path are assigned and no single part of your organization is over-taxed by their part(s) of the Path.
  3. Hold everyone accountable for their part of the Path.

Second, communicate it clearly and often. As Andy Stanley says, We follow the person who communicates the clearest picture of the future.

Third, check often to see whether those steps are moving you closer to your near-term targets, adjust accordingly, and set the next one or two steps.

Fourth, check to see if these plans are taking you closer to your long-term Vision. Don’t get too far off course. Adjust and go back to the third step.

It is important to note that organizations of all types and sizes are much better at developing plans than executing them. The business world is full of strategic plans sitting on shelves collecting dust until it is time to do the next year’s plan. You’ll be ahead of 90% of your competition if you implement your plans.

There is a great plan for your organization. Now is the time to set it, communicate it, and execute it!

Key takeaways

First: Nowhere are your leadership skills more evident than in developing and clearly communicating a well-laid out Path toward your preferred future… your Vision.

Second: You cannot afford not to plan, especially now. More than ever, your team needs a plan.

Third: Keeping sight of your long-term Vision lends stability to your near-term plans and adjustments.

Fourth: Having a clear Path enables you to focus and prioritize the use of your resources.

Fifth: The organizations that best survived the 2008 recession used a multipronged coping and recovery approach.

Sixth: Focus on what you can see clearly in front of you and execute one step at a time. Planning without execution is a waste of time, energy, and organizational resources.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have I been purposeful and proactive in adjusting to the needs brought about by this crisis?
  2. What am I doing as a leader to communicate our plans?
  3. As a leader, are my actions during the crisis matching my words before the crisis?
  4. Are we setting plans that get us through the short term but hurt us in the long term?
  5. How will future plans better address the potential for emergencies and crises?
  6. Bonus: What plans have changed in my family or with close friends? Am I offering hope and stability to the ones I love? How can we come out the other side closer and stronger?

Steps to take:

  1. If you have not yet adjusted your plans due to the pandemic, review them now to make sure no adjustments are needed. If needed, make them now.
  2. Communicate the plan, even if there are no changes, to your people clearly and often.
  3. Be an active daily participant in the execution of the plan, step-by-step.
  4. Bonus: Plan what you are going to do with your family and/or friends when the pandemic is over.
Categories: Processes