The best and brightest leaders of organizations such as small businesses, non-profits and local governments are those who can navigate the complexities of the world by understanding and preparing for unknowns.
Despite being classified as unknowns, the nuances of what organizations do and can deal with are almost always known in some way. If you are truly focused on your marketplace, socioeconomic environments, and clientele you’re keenly aware of the how and why of potential change and that all contributing factors to your day-to-day and year-to-year operations are, in their own ways, fickle.
Good leaders aren’t caught off guard by gradual or even immediate change. But, they can be when it’s brought on by government.
Government intervention is a different breed of animal. While market, social or natural factors can change the face of the game they don’t make a wholesale change to it; it’s still there in an altered form. Government, on the other hand, can dramatically change the rules of the game and that can be done at the whim of an individual or a governing body, often with immediacy and without forethought.
When times are normal it happens often and it’s frustrating enough – the government will impose mandates and changes to wages, health care, how services are delivered and how things are produced. But, when times are abnormal, as they have been for over seven months now, that frustration is compounded by severe government reaction -- and overreaction – to the issue at hand, actions which can forever change the world in which we live, work and serve.
I’ve told many people this year that COVID is unpredictable, but government is even more so.
I can plan for COVID in my workplace -- we instituted protocols in advance of government direction; we have a full-time COVID Administrator; and we are constantly monitoring and refining our processes and people in response to the latest science and ideas.
I can’t plan for government or, more specifically, Governor Cuomo’s government in my workplace. What will the rest of this year look like? What will next year look like? What happens if the state’s or region’s COVID numbers increase?
I definitely couldn’t properly plan for it this spring -- and I was being proactive about it. People thought I was crazy when I preemptively announced that we’d be closing down the factory as the state battled the worst of the virus, they thought there was no way that Cuomo would shutdown the economy. But he did and he went far beyond what I had expected: I thought we’d be closed for 2 to 4 weeks and would be returning by Easter Monday; instead, most of our operations were shutdown by state edict for almost 10 weeks and we went finally back to being whole at the end of May.
While we’re at full strength and then some now, most businesses, social service organizations, and local governments haven’t been so lucky. The Governor has kept their capacities low, harmed their ability to properly sell or serve, and, in some cases, hasn’t even allowed them to re-open. They have no idea when the reins will be loosened.
They need answers. Their personal livelihoods and they very existence of their enterprises depend on it. The first shutdown and ongoing restrictions have crippled them…a second lockdown or longer-lasting rules could signal their death.
I need answers, too. I need to know what controls could possibly be implemented against producers in the future – if they are extravagant it may force my hand to have some products made in other states by companies that are normally in some way my competitors. Who in their right mind wants to do that?
We’re all guaranteed that the playbook going forward looks nothing like the state’s playbook since March. You know that the rules will be changed – there will be different statistical triggers, capacities, essential designations, regional controls, and other orders.
You also know that the Cuomo Administration already knows what it’s going to do, it won’t be off-the-cuff adjustments as it had been during the first 4 months of the crisis. This virus has been here since the first week of March and it’s been a thing globally since last fall. They now know a lot about the virus. They’ve (hopefully) learned from their mistakes and the best practices of others.
Cuomo has to show his hand, now. Holding all the cards and showing a poker face does absolutely nothing positive for New Yorkers. It’s bad leadership. Tell us what could happen, how it will happen, and when it would happen. Don’t wait until it happens to let us know. That’s how organizations – and people – suffer.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about factories like mine, movie theaters, the diner in your neighborhood, the YMCA, the local hardware store, your county government, this very newspaper…we need to be able to understand what the future could look like so we can prepare accordingly, be it with Plans B and C, rain day funds, or, God forbid, an exit strategy.
Let us know what are to us the unknowns which aren’t unknowns to those in the know.
Lead, so we can lead.
From the 12 October 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News