Lockdown leadership lessons: Keeping your core values

Thoughts from Nebula CEO, Daniel Nel.

Johannesburg, 12 May 2020
Read time 3min 00sec
Daniel Nel.
Daniel Nel.

They say that a person’s true character is revealed during tough times. That difficult circumstances not only make a person but also expose who someone really is. Over the last few weeks of lockdown, these statements have really resonated with me as everyone scrambles to keep their businesses afloat amid global uncertainty. And, honestly, some of the revelations I’ve seen haven’t always been pretty.

Most of us have been through a breakup at some points in our lives. Often, the sting of the experience comes down to what people do and say in that moment. The words and actions used to communicate that the relationship has run its course. Should your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend later want to rekindle the romance, chances are that your breakup experience will affect whether or not you want to start things up again. If someone was harsh and mean-spirited, you probably won’t forget it. If they were kind and fair, you’ll be more open and receptive to their advances.

Around the world, we’ve seen larger corporates use the COVID-19 situation as an excuse to avoid paying their smaller suppliers. This behaviour has been described as the "assassin of small businesses" and will see many SMEs closing their doors because they simply cannot meet their financial obligations. But what happens when we eventually find a new normal on the other side of this pandemic and these same big corporates need their small-scale partners again? Do you think they’ll be hesitant to jump back into business with the same organisations that treated them poorly when times were tough? Will their “breakup” experiences have soured the relationship entirely?

Ben Horowitz is a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times bestselling author. His book, What you do is who you are: How to create your business culture, offers practical, and sometimes surprising, advice around how to build a business culture that can make it through both good and bad times. When the chips are down, leaders are remembered not for what they say but for what they do, explains Horowitz.

Much like a breakup, when you say things, it’s critical to be mindful about what you say. Right now, there is so much going on that none of us can really explain. As a leader, it’s your job to communicate effectively and define reality for your business. It’s not about how things were in the past or what you want them to be like in the future, it’s about unpacking and dealing with how things are right now, at this very moment. Sometimes it can be hard to be honest about the situation but now is the time when it is most important to be as truthful and sincere about what you say.

As a leader it is during these extraordinary times, that your core values – what you really believe – are either defined for you or refined by you. Sure, it’s important to adapt and pivot when your circumstances change but you can’t allow a hurdle in your path to curtail everything you stand for. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: how do I want to be remembered after all of this?

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