Generally, I approach life and business through a long-term lens, making careful decisions that include many different stakeholder perspectives. In fact, one of my personal core values is “long-term orientation.”

Over the past few weeks, however, as the world’s changed at a breathtaking pace, I’ve come to realize that my decision-making lens needed to be adjusted. I’ve also come to see that the reality for many organizations is that the next 60 to 90 days may determine if they will even exist in their current form a year from now.

Many are calling COVID-19 our generation’s World War, an association I’m inclined to agree with—although at least this time the world is united against a common enemy.

In order to fight this enemy, today’s leaders must adopt a wartime mindset and understand that victory will mean having to deviate from a peacetime playbook. Life or business as normal will not get us there.

From this lens, here are three critical adjustments that must be made—urgently:

Focus on The Many

Wartime forces us to temporarily shift from an individual mindset to a collective one that evaluates what is best for the most people. Government powers are expanded and some freedoms are restricted—all in the effort to help protect as many people as possible. With COVID-19, we’ve seen this through the mandatory quarantines and the determinations of what is “essential” and what is not.

Under wartime conditions, the focus is on collective survival and welfare; this requires a different mindset and commitment. During World War II, most people who were capable of working—including my grandfather—had to either go to war or work in a factory producing military supplies. There were no other options.

Many leaders have shared with me that their younger employees are struggling most to adjust to this collective mindset, with many underestimating the gravity of the situation. This individualistic outlook was most evident in the defiant “party on” behavior many students chose to adopt over their spring break. For some, it took public outcry for them to realize just how arrogant and dangerous their actions were and how it put other people in harm’s way, including loved ones.

Adjust to Speed and Ambiguity

Wartime tends to distort our understanding of time: days feel like weeks and weeks feel like years. Systems, process and communication cadences are suddenly irrelevant. It’s crucial to accept the need to act quickly and decisively, even while operating with ambiguity and incomplete information. I haven’t found anyone yet who feels they acted too early in taking precautionary action.

However, when decisive action is most necessary, communication can suffer. I find it helpful to remember the aviation protocol of Aviate, Navigate and Communicate. While keeping others in the loop is always important, in an emergency, you often need to act and course-correct before you can communicate what’s happening.

Making Hard Decisions

As this COVID-19 crisis escalates, many people are facing really hard decisions with no easy answers. It’s a new landscape of hard decision landmines, which is why many of us are in lockdowns today. For the truly difficult choices, we need a consistent decision-making rubric.

For example, many emergency room doctors are facing unbelievably difficult ethical choices such as who gets a ventilator and who does not. Most never thought they’d be having to make these types of “utilitarian” decisions associated with wartime triage – but faced with such a high demand of need amidst scarce resources, making decisions based on a hierarchy of needs is the only way to get through the battle.

Wartime may require a different mindset, but it can also bring out the best in people. One such example is my friend, Alex Yastrebenetsky. Even as he’s been leading his own business through the crisis, he and his team have donated meals to children who are home from school. This week, they started a fund to produce masks for hospital workers fighting the virus, committing $25,000 of his own money to the cause.

No one wants to be dragged into war, but when you find yourself there, the way through is by acknowledging the reality and doing your part to ensure victory.

Quote of The Week

“If you live your life as if everything is about you, you will be left with just that. Just you.”


–Author Unknown