12 Leadership and Execution Lessons During Crisis

Leadership means getting things done, and getting things done is about execution, so leadership is about execution. 

Of course, before one can execute, one needs a clear goal, a strategy and an action plan. Whether the plan is to follow somebody else’s plan or execute one’s own, it is important to understand the links between goals, strategy, execution and leadership. Here are 12 lessons about leadership and execution I have learned from history as well as from current events surrounding COVID-19.

  1. Having a plan is a good sign. Not having a plan, or having the wrong one, is a red flag that indicates treating planning, including continuity planning and contingency planning, as unimportant. When a leader will convince you he or she has no plan and will just execute the plans of others, this should be a red flag!
  2. COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses of populist governments who have been incompetent to solve the crisis.
  3. Execution is about utilizing capabilities, which in turn is about coordination, competencies and commitment to goals. Goals can change directions. If the goal is to protect citizens, a lockdown would be early; on the other hand, if the goal is something else, a lockdown will only be enforced if there are no other options. 
  4. Governments can no longer rely on the economic momentum of their past administrations for the turnaround of their economy. They will now have to prove their competencies, or their popularity will be eroded when their supporters feel the pinch of their overconfidence and miscalculations: number of deaths, number of unemployed, number of business closures, contraction in gross domestic products, confidence of business, and confidence of people, for a start, benchmarked against other countries.
  5. Incompetent governments can be in denial and will resort to blaming COVID-19 rather than acknowledge that while they cannot control a forfeitous event like COVID-19, it is how they respond or not respond to a crisis that really makes a difference for its citizens. Proof is how some countries were able to prevent COVID-19 from spreading without a lockdown, and how others had lockdowns and were able to extinguish COVID-19.
  6. The leaders supporting the people in power must hold their leaders accountable, and must call them out if he/she is no longer serving his/her most important mandate at the time, or they become a complicit part of an echo chamber. Instead of being an apologist, there is a need for a biblical prophet Nathan to courageously and promptly call out the abuses or shortcomings of their “King David” for the betterment of both their head as a person, and most importantly, for the people.
  7. With more voters informed of facts, and personally feeling the effect of their mistakes, more voters will become remorseful of who they voted for, and government popularity spirals down. Jokes are no longer laughed at, hand claps become a mere formality or even elusive, respect gone!
  8. Power is addictive. Even if competency is in question, the party in power will not wish to give up power, afraid of future suits, unable to write their own legacies, knowing that being a revisionist in history will be a harder thing to do, so they have resorted to showing vindictiveness to instill fear, creating distractions and playing a blame game instead of giving the right direction and message to inspire a suffering nation.
  9. Women leaders, like those from Taiwan and New Zealand, appear to have natural motherly instincts, so they make preemptive moves to protect their own from possible catastrophe. They are also used to operating with less resources, hence avoidance cost is always wiser with less costs from being reactionary.
  10. Historically, voters tend to vote in favor of a new government when the economy of a country is bad. Remember the US election of 1992? Despite winning the Gulf War, and having an 89% approval rating (the highest presidential job approval rating ever recorded to that date), Republican incumbent president George H. W. Bush lost to democrat Bill Clinton as his approval rating reversed to the lowest point of his presidency at only 29% in July 1992. This was because of recession, unemployment, and new taxes contrary to his campaign promises, among others. New leadership means change, and it has the unique ability to give new hope, even momentarily, until voters make an audit of campaign promises versus actual performance.
  11. A new government has the special effect of building the confidence of people and business. Remember U.S President Franklin Roosevelt and his “New Deal” in 1933? It was his second “New Deal” in 1935 that made a big difference reversing the economic state of The Great Depression. The previous increase in confidence was based more on new leadership that gave new hope. Remember the new hope Philippine president Cory Aquino brought after assuming office in 1986 after erstwhile strongman, the much feared President Ferdinand Marcos was deposed and exiled to the U.S.during the EDSA Revolution? Even the new hope brought in by young mayors Isko Moreno of Manila and Vico Sotto of Pasig created excitement and helped them establish their uniqueness immediately – – thinking differently, seeing things differently and doing things differently.
  12. Beware of the sweet talker who wants to take over in the next election. It cannot just be “anybody but the incumbent.” We need to scrutinize these people and their philosophies. For instance, Adolf Hitler became head of Germany in 1934, when earlier unemployment was as high as 30%, GDP growth was negative for four consecutive years 1929-1932, and hyperinflation in 1923 got worse as prices of goods doubled every 3.65 days, equivalent to 29,500% inflation annually in Germany. As we all remember, while Hitler was able to improve the German economy, he also initiated World War 2 and the Holocaust.

Leadership is ultimately about taking care of the people and managing transitions. In that way, it is easy to determine a leader’s impact on a nation. Other than improving the economy better than other nations, the leader must be respected on the world stage. He or she must also create pride, not embarrassment, for their people. In other words, a job well done, while unifying and inspiring a nation in crisis. Check their outlook through the lens of strategy and execution. Check communication. Check governance. Check performance metrics. Check character.

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Josiah Go features the movers and shakers of the business world and writes about marketing, strategy, innovation, execution and entrepreneurship

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