Business leadership during a crisis

Mbo Mena Luvindao

Merriam-Webster defines a crisis as “an unstable or difficult time or state of affairs”. It is unplanned or uncontrolled change. During times of crisis, leadership is critical. While the existing economic crisis caused by COVID-19 is unprecedented, small businesses have historically proved themselves to be flexible and resilient.

The crisis has led to paradigm shifts in the way we view and conduct our business – don’t bury your head in the sand, but consider new ways of doing things as an entrepreneur. COVID-19 has changed the way we work, and in some industries, it has forced companies and their leaders to accept changes that they would otherwise have taken longer to reach. The democratisation of technologies such as; online shopping, distance learning, working from home using virtual private networks (VPNs), etc. has facilitated working, learning and leisure during the crisis. These key technologies have become pervasive in everyday life. In adhering to principles of social distancing, banks have been on a drive to decongest banking halls, and e-commerce is critical to this business change. We can gather from this experience with COVID-19 that crises require business leaders to think positive and creatively, adapt quickly, and plan for crisis management. This adaptive rationale is referred to as entrepreneurial thinking.

Entrepreneurial thinking in a crisis can become a competitive advantage, making businesses resilient. Entrepreneurs are a special breed of people. They have an ever-positive attitude that drives them to continue even in the face of adversity. In times of a crisis, this is not only beneficial but often a vital driving force to push business towards adaptation to the new conditions. Without adaptability, no business can survive the ever-emerging changes of the economic environment, irrespective of what causes them. Entrepreneurs are keenly aware of the fact that a service today might become redundant tomorrow. Therefore, they continuously think of ways to adapt their products and services to the emerging needs of clients. They are also aware that during times of a crisis, logic often leaves us, but a perceptible crisis plan ensures that business is carried out appropriately and humanely.

As with every plan, communication remains a critical pillar. Communicating with your customers, bank and suppliers are essential and should be done effectively and as quickly as possible. Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Namibia specifically tend to shy away from communicating with their creditors during times of hardship. This approach can jeopardise the chances of your business surviving the lockdown and the crisis as a whole. SMEs need to contact their banks and discuss how e-commerce and merchant services can enhance their business’ reach during these times.

Communicate with your staff. Acknowledge their concerns and help assuage any fears. As an employer, it will benefit you to be open with your staff while projecting credible hope and positivity. Everyone is aware of the economic slowdown caused by the virus and while retrenchments may be a solution to stop the business from going further into the red; it may be a temporary one with many, sometimes expensive, repercussions. If possible, take time to strategise and consider some less traditional options. For example, your staff may be willing to work fewer hours instead of becoming unemployed. When people are concerned about their future and that of their families; the best approach is to communicate openly, clearly and sincerely.

Remember that, as a business leader, it is critical to understand the situation around a crisis such as COVID-19 and disseminate credible information. Misinformation and myths are rife, so it’s important as leaders to get reliable information to share with staff. Follow official government advice and get information only from reputable sources like the World Health Organization (WHO) website or the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Jon Huntsman; the late American businessman and philanthropist, said, “If there’s a silver lining to a bad time, it is this: When facing severe challenges, your mind is normally at its sharpest”. During this time of crisis, innovative business leaders have an opportunity to change the status quo and initiate new concepts & new thinking to take their businesses to the next level. Our response to a crisis then will ultimately define our future.

*Mbo Mena Luvindao is the Branch Manager – SME Finance, Business Banking Division, Bank Windhoek

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