The Pandemic has fundamentally changed everything, the resulting uncertainty has placed a premium on leadership. In the past, “Great Leaders” have generally been the people who ‘know all the systems and the formulas’, and apply those formulas consistently. Our reliance on the formulas of the past is now problematic. The pandemic has changed the trajectory of nearly every business, and frankly, our lives. The world simply does not work like it used to work. Great Leadership – in this new world – is defined by the ability to make and apply quality decision making. Quality decision-making relies on these 3 qualities:
- The ability understand decision making
- The ability to actually make a good decision
- The willingness to accept and live with the consequences
This new environment requires leaders – at all levels – to
- Take in new information almost continually.
- Synthesize information rapidly
- Communicate the direction to the organization that they lead.
My analogy is to compare the new and old leadership style to cooks and chefs. A cook uses existing recipes to prepare the ingredients. A chef, on the other hand, creates new recipes to prepare the ingredients. The Chef uses recipes from their past to inform their thinking, but in the end, makes something entirely new. A chef is well prepared to cook with new and different ingredients, and based on their knowledge, create a whole new dish. When it comes to leadership, ask yourself
- Are you a cook or a chef?
- What about your team?
- Do you have a team of cooks or chefs?
- Who on your team is ‘just following instructions’?
- Who is using what they have learned in the past to ‘make something new’?
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on the CEO of Emerson Electric – David Farr. He discussed his path through the last 10 months of COVID and decision making. In the article, Mr. Farr discussed his reliance on the past, and how those old formulas were only partially helpful. He talked about the importance of leadership. One of his ‘rules’ was to remember who helped you during the difficult times and stay with them. His comments were focused on external partners and vendors, but I think this should extend to internal partners and staff. Who has demonstrated the ability to ‘think like a chef’?
Here is an example from my recent past. For more than a decade, my team would run an RFP (request for proposal) to realign our full truck loads rates every winter – approximately January and February. We selected January and February because, historically, that was when rates were lowest, and the demand on the carrier’s capacity was weakest. During the fall of 2020, truck demand went ‘through the roof’, and truck rates went up with the demand. I was asked by my boss if rates will come down in January. Had I been “a cook” – my response would have been to expect rates to come down in January. However, I am “a chef” – so my response was more circumspect. I responded that historically, rates come down in January, but the economic dislocation from the pandemic has changed the freight flows, and it will likely take a year or so for the markets to readjust. In addition, the Coronavirus vaccines need to be trucked all over the nation, further reducing truck capacity. Therefore, I think we can expect to see some small reduction in rates, but that the combination of demand related to the vaccines and the freight flow changes related to economic dislocation will likely keep prices above normal.
As we think about the leaders of the future…. We need to look to those who have the
- skills and humility to recognize that they don’t know everything, and
- the ability to use new information quickly to make an informed opinion based on probability.
These individuals possess the leadership virtues of the future. These are the Chefs. Now – What’s for dinner?