Leaders across the world right now are actually facing two pandemics, and how well they handle them will shape the future of their organizations.
The first, of course, is COVID-19, and every leader at every level of every organization is pouring time and energy into dealing with the fallout of this virus. The other isn’t life-threatening, but it is debilitating and it has the power to thwart leaders’ efforts to combat the impacts of the coronavirus.
This is the pandemic of fear.
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You might think you’re immune, but you are not. You can’t wash your hands of fear. You can’t stop it with a mask. And there is not enough room in the universe to escape it with social distancing. But there is a cure: faith.
I learned this early in my tenure as CEO of Prologis. The world was in the grips of a recession when I took that office, and the once-mighty global warehouse company was on the verge of bankruptcy. I knew the organization, the markets, the employees, the competition, and the industry, so I was qualified for the job in the traditional sense. But I spent the first few weeks as CEO overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation. I was held hostage by the fear that any wrong decision would result in our death knell.
Lives weren’t at stake, but thousands of livelihoods were, and I found myself unsteady. I struggled to think clearly or act decisively. Then I realized that nothing hampers effective leadership more than being traumatized by fear. I knew things had to change. I knew I had to change. And I did.
When I began writing a book about leading in today’s uncertain times, there was no such thing as the coronavirus. But I knew from the start that I wanted to discuss fear’s impact on leadership, because there’s always something – a recession, a natural disaster, new technologies, new competitors, political uncertainties – that will cause disruptions that cause us to fear. That book (Transfluence) is due out in the fall, and I’ll share more about it in the coming months, but I can promise you a deep discussion about fear.
For now, however, I believe leaders everywhere need to conquer their fears related to COVID-19 so they can lead effectively during this crisis. And, as I said, the answer is faith. It frees you from the fear you have and protects you against the fear that’s coming at you. For me, faith is rooted in a belief in a higher power, but I want to keep this discussion in secular terms. Faith, then, is about believing with total confidence that fear has no power over you so that you can focus on controlling those things that truly are within your control.
It’s been said that the coronavirus didn’t strip us of control over our lives, it stripped us of the illusion that we were ever in control to begin with. That’s true. But we can control our immediate thoughts, decisions and actions – if we believe, that is have faith, that all that we can do is enough.
When I surrendered the future to faith, I stopped fearing. Then I was able to think about what we needed to do rather than what we should fear. As a result, our decisions weren’t based in fear but in facts, logic and common sense. Right now, leaders are deciding things like whether to have a meeting in person or over video, whether to lay off employees, whether to cancel contracts, and whether to shut down factories. I don’t know the right answer to any of those decisions, but I know the wrong answer is to make them out of fear rather than basing them on facts.
Personally, I’m confident that we will get through the coronavirus pandemic. We’ll learn. We’ll adjust. The world around us will never be the same, but we will adapt and thrive. And I believe leaders who will take us to a better future are those who effectively deal with their fears through faith.