Rich Hume, Chief Executive Officer of TD SYNNEX.
The pandemic has tested us in so many ways — as friends, neighbors, family members and co-workers. It has also tested many of us as business leaders. With health, safety and compassion as the first imperative, we also had the responsibility of minimizing impacts on day-to-day operations, with no clear view as to what tomorrow might bring. Just as we found what appeared to be a roadmap forward, circumstances would change, sometimes globally and other times within a region or in a specific country. Although we continue to learn as we go, the coronavirus will continue to drive huge societal shifts and redefine norms — a hard demarcation of “before” and “after.”
Leaders in any organization — be it a government, small business or multinational corporations like Tech Data — must be ready to pivot to address these huge paradigm shifts.
At my company, we are prepared to make these pivots thanks to the three pillars guiding our leadership philosophy. We have been and will continue to be flexible, cautious and rigorous. These simple ideas can also help guide your organization in this new normal.
From the beginning, we learned the importance of adopting a flexible response to the pandemic. Questions swirled as most of the world went remote. How long will remote work last? When can we return to the office? Even worse, in the beginning, we did not know how transmissible the virus was, leading to even more unease.
To combat that unease, we embraced flexibility in our response to this constantly shifting situation. We sent much of our workforce home with plans to return but changed those plans as the pandemic continued. We have constantly and consistently updated plans for returning to the office to reflect the reality of the situation.
Recently, I revisited a video we sent to all our staff members explaining our hope to begin a phased reopening of our offices by September — of 2020. What was remarkable about the video was that it could have been filmed today, and the messages would remain true, even as the promise of reopening seemed well within reach only a few weeks ago.
This past year has demonstrated just how quickly circumstances can change and then change again. While uncertainty is challenging for businesses, leaders have a great opportunity today to show just how nimble their organizations can be in the face of ongoing change.
Caution has been the cornerstone of many of our health and safety decisions during the pandemic. Before making any decision, we must think first and foremost about our employees’ safety and well-being. Now as cases of the delta variant rise, our continued caution (and flexibility) is needed more than ever. Pushing back a return to office date or canceling an in-person meeting to be extra sure your colleagues are safe are small but incredibly necessary exercises in caution.
Beyond the circumstances of the pandemic, caution is an integral facet of leadership. As leaders, it can be tempting to see a problem and jump into a solution with both feet. Fight that instinct.
Ask yourself these questions: Is this a measured response? Have I done my due diligence before taking action? What can go wrong, and how would I react? In the ever-quickening pace of modern life, leaders who exhibit caution and thoughtfulness will make fewer missteps and lead more effectively.
Naturally, during the pandemic, we applied rigor to our health and safety guidelines to ensure our staff was safe. But rigor’s importance goes far beyond our reactions to the coronavirus and ties the other two pillars of this leadership philosophy together.
We have been rigorous in our pursuit of flexibility and caution in the name of guaranteeing employee wellness and driving business success. Decisions made during the pandemic were not made lightly — there was discussion and healthy debate among the leadership team. We must all continue this rigor even as the pandemic subsides simply because it works. If you stick to these pillars long enough, you will see impactful results.
All leaders know that following a particular philosophy will not drive success overnight. However, rigor in following that philosophy — the strict adherence to each pillar every day — is required to bring out the best in your team. Anything less, and your thought process (and final decisions) will end up muddled and unclear.
Looking Past Covid-19
As a long-time business leader, I have characterized the call to leadership in many ways. This mantra — flexible, cautious and rigorous — emerged in this unique moment as an invaluable tool. These three simple words have helped to guide our company through the worst public health crisis of our lives.
But these words resonate beyond the narrow application of our current public health challenges. These pillars represent an ethos that all business leaders can learn from — flexibility in response to a challenge, caution when crafting a response and rigor in maintaining the standards that drive your success. I believe these pillars are integral to any successful leader.
If you are a business leader, assess how you lead based on these tenets. Have you been flexible when faced with a problem or been too rigid in your process? Have you exhibited caution, or jumped right into a decision? What standards or mandates should you be the most rigorous in enforcing? What decisions have you made that require greater rigor before accepting?
The pandemic has been a rare challenge for all businesses. If these three simple words could guide us successfully through the trials of the past 18 months, think of how effective they will be against everyday business challenges.