The COVID-19 pandemic has been called a “black swan,” a metaphor for an extremely rare event that is unforeseen, but which can have enormous impacts. Examples of black swans were the 9/11 attacks which had bad impacts, and the development of the internet which has had a generally good impact.

The animal analogy is wrong here, says Michele Wuker. In her book, The Gray Rhino, rather than a black swan she calls COVID-19 a “Gray Rhino” — gray like an elephant in the room and a rhino because of how it attacks. She writes:

"Given what we know about pandemics and their increasing likelihood, outbreaks are highly probable and high impact. I coined the term 'gray rhino' for exactly such events: obvious, visible, coming right at you, with large potential impact and highly probable consequences."

Every dealership and small business can be affected by the COVID-19 crisis. With what we see around the world and given the nature of pandemics, the full impact may not have hit your dealership — yet. But it will and when it does, it will hit fast and hard like a charging rhino. So be scared.

To lead a business into and through an impending crisis, you must also be calm.

Bridging the two — being scared and being calm — creates tension that will challenge your leadership.

Be Scared

The rationale of the Good to Great Flywheel is long term sustainability. By that I mean resiliency over the ups and downs of the market, changes in business practices, demographics and other external events. If ever there was a time to have built a “Good to Great Dealership” the COVID-19 Crisis is it. 

What to be scared for:

  • Your Employees & Customers. Many dealers I talk with (on Zoom) cite the concerns that their people have for their safety when interacting with customers or from touching their machines. 
    • Their concerns reflect back to the safety for themselves and their families.
    • COVID-19 is insidious, we cannot see it when it infects but the impacts can be life or death.
  • Your Business. A significant drop in revenue is projected for some markets particularly those serving consumer or rural lifestylers. Anticipate a need for cash amidst a future that is uncertain early in the crisis.
    • Amidst the uncertainty, manage cash and bank covenants well.
    • Manage your expenses in anticipation of a deep drop — hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Be Calm

Juxtaposed against being scared is the need for you to project calmness and compassion when many around you are scared. Think head and heart. 

Your head will help understand why you need to be scared and how to take the right actions to protect your employees, customer and business. Your heart will help understand the fears of others and will help you behave as a leader to alleviate those fears. You must be visible and connect to employees, customers and family with felt empathy.

In previous articles we discussed the need to bridge between two behaviors and the tension that creates in good leaders.  

In an article from June 2017 titled Challenge Directly & Show You Care Personally, we built upon the advice of a dealer to “Be brutally honest” and then discussed the advice of Kim Scott who wrote “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity.   

About COVID-19 crisis she recently blogged about the need to acknowledge the “intense emotional labor of being the boss.”

She referred to a previous crisis.

Since that day…, I have learned to focus first on staying centered myself, so that I could build real relationships with each of the people who work for me. Only when I am centered and my relationships are strong can I fulfill my responsibilities as a manager to guide my team.

Another example comes from an article from November 2016 called How Do You Turn a Crisis into Opportunity? - Exert strong, stable, sustainable leadership at times of crisis in your business.

Last week I lead a “Coping with COVID” webinar with one of my dealers group and I learned from a dealer about Dr. Fred Johnson of InnovationOne. In his blog “Leading when the Chips are Down” he advised how to behave.

Choose to stay calm, resolute and believe in yourself.

  • It is easy to lead when things are going great. The test of effective leadership is when the chips are down. Your team needs you to be even, transparent, comforting and real without being Pollyannaish! Your best bet during this time is you!

The Gray Rhino of COVID-19 requires you to leverage leadership now.

Next month we’ll continue with other G2G spokes. In the meantime, be scared and be calm.