By Kerry Painter, CVE
In the December 2006 issue of Facility Manager magazine, I wrote the following:
“The story here is not about buildings, moldy carpets, insurance issues or structural integrity. What I’ve come to learn after endless weeks is that the story is about change, adaption, flexibility, human kindness and just plain doing what it takes to keep moving forward.
“It’s the intimate knowledge that your employees are really a part of your family and they have families of their own to consider and nurture. Take turns supporting each other and let everyone be involved in leading the way when necessary. No one always has to be in charge.”
That story was about Hurricane Katrina and how we managed our way through recovery, hosted a shelter for 600 refugees and, day-by-day, figured it out.
Today, we are in similar unknown territory. Until events postponed or canceled, we were walking the line between when and how to encourage the preservation of daily life and believing the show must go on versus cancelling the show altogether to preserve our way of life. This time has certainly been unprecedented for all of us and, once again, there is no best practices or handbook to rely on. It is our job now to create the best practices and write the handbook for those who will come after us in real time. Hindsight is 20/20 and soon, we’ll be able to recognize what we did well and what we should have seen sooner. That wisdom will come later, but for now we must learn to inch our way to better leadership. Just as we are so much better now at setting up a recovery shelter to house and feed people or incident command structures after active shooter emergencies, we will now be better at health, safety and business recovery in times of a pandemic.
What can we control? Our continuous leadership development and response to each day. Remember that what was the best decision yesterday may not work for today, and being unwilling to take in various diverse pieces of input, to admit a change in direction may be necessary or to realize someone else may just have a better plan will cause you to hold on to a decision that becomes a block to the right decisions for today. Be willing to consider information and concerns from diverse sources. Admit that a change in direction may be necessary. Accept that someone else may have a better plan. And, most importantly, don’t surrender yourself to your decisions. If you make a choice and it becomes clear that another path was the better fit, change your course.
Don’t forget that we have been training for this! IAVM’s promotion of inclusion and diversity has put us in a far better place to handle these unknown challenges. According to Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making At Work, posted by Erik Larson on Sep 19, 2017 on CleverPop, decision making drives 95% of business performance and is the most important thing managers do in the execution of their day. Teams make better decisions than individuals 66% of the time and diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time.
This brings me back to 2006, when I learned by experience that not everyone can see the best solutions all the time. From that experience, I now understand that it’s okay to rotate leadership in times of stress as people’s capacities become taxed and overloaded. Remember that we are all still human with our own personal stories, biases, relationships, and complexities that need to be considered. Everyone in the room is working and seeing the world through their own lens. This is why diversity gives strengths to answers.
All through March, my venues worked hard to help convention planners and theater performances save their events. We explored everything from streaming speakers to China, streaming plays to ticket holders, lessening expenses from the venue, being as flexible as possible with contracts, moving events to other days etc. On Thursday March 12th, after weeks of these efforts, I woke up knowing in my gut that it was time to pivot. Were we really doing our resident performing companies and meetings planners a service by not shutting down and not enacting Force Majeure to allow them to explore insurance targeted at cancellations or business interruption? Were we doing what was best for our guests putting them in crowded rooms together?
This is when leading a business becomes tough; the delicate complexity of a decision between one that helps our venue sustain its budget or helping your clients and partners remain viable for the future of your relationship and their survival is not something anyone is prepared to make lightly. These are hard economic decisions coupled with hard ethical choices. Every expert guide to decision-making will tell you to gather all of the information you have access to so you can make better, informed decisions. On Thursday, March 12th, I made that my task for the day. I pushed myself to ask questions of my clients, promoters and teams, knowing that I might not like what they had to say.
By the end of that day however, the decision was out of my hands. Like many of you, our governor decreed that, beginning on the following day, all events and gatherings of over 100 people must be shut down. I watched this progression happen city-by-city through all of our industry blogs, webinars and social media. Know there were others with you going through the same decisions, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your insight — even if it is only insight from five hours ago. Use the tools in place and at our fingertips to share the load and help others in similar positions, whether now or five years from now.
Throughout this event, our mantra has become “This is what leadership looks like.” Our city manager relayed this to our top-level and we were charged with filtering it down. Remind all of your people that they are leaders in all moments and times throughout every day. Help them say, “This is what leadership looks like” as they go forward. If nothing else, it will give the benefit of a pause as they relate leadership with the potential ramifications of whichever action they are about to take, and how they communicate that action. At the very least, our team has bonded through this experience as we learned to utilize our various strengths, share insights, collaborate, and listen to diversified perspectives.
We will all tell this story for many years to come and I will likely quote this article in the future for some new, unprecedented challenge I have yet to foresee. Our venue, meetings, or sports and the decisions we make in leading them are political and publicly seen in very broad ways. This is leadership: flexible, changing, imperfect, and messy. Be kind in judging your decisions and use the best available knowledge to make them. Leadership in a crisis is what makes us all better.