Insights / Our COVID-19 Response

Leadership Lessons: What I learnt at the edge of the precipice

15 APRIL 2020

I have always believed I coped well in a crisis, finding the best in myself when my back is against the wall.   

As a 46-year-old, I sit firmly between the Boomers and the Millennials, a proud member of Generation X. I remember the Falklands War, the fall of Communism and the Northern Irish Troubles, but I am young enough to have not really felt their economic impacts. 

I am, however, old enough to have lived through the dot-com bubble burst and the subprime mortgage crisis, coming out the other side fortunately unscathed. From the very start of the COVID-19 crisis this has felt different again: I have no doubt it will have a generational effect on us all.  

What have I learnt and done well to date? 

Make decisions pragmatically and quickly. I have tried to be a decisive leader but tempered it with pragmatism and common-sense. Making decisions by weighing up the pros and cons, being sensible but decisive, providing the reasons, giving clear guidance and not being frightened to be wrong. If it is properly thought through a decision can be reversed, undone or even evolved. 

Set expectations clearly and give the reasons why.  In a customer service setting maintaining a customer’s expectations is imperative and even more so in a crisis: A customer needs to know when, how and why. In these times we are willing to accept new parameters, a new normal. Who would have thought we would be queuing outside to get our weekly shop or be told we need to virtually queue to get on to a website? Let the customer know what is going on. If you can’t provide a service then let them know why, they may not like it but at least they will be more informed. 

Be vulnerable – In these times being vulnerable is okay. Telling people, you can’t offer a specific service at the moment as it may put you or a colleague at risk is perfectly acceptable. We are all vulnerable on occasion and it is most definitely not a sign of weakness, instead it should be perceived as a sign of you being considerate towards others in your decision making. Let people know why you have this vulnerability and they will – on most occasions – fully understand your reasoning. 

Care, care and care. “It’s not my problem.” “I don’t see how I am affected by this.” “Your poor planning is not my fault.”  These are exactly the things we don’t want to hear during such exceptionally stressful times. Make it your problem, share the problem and invest time into solving it. People may forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel. Show some empathy, and just because this wasn’t planned does not mean you shouldn’t offer to help. In these times poor planning can be symptomatic of the uncertainty surrounding us. 

Make do and mend. I stole this one directly from a WW2 poster, but it really does fit the national mood. Don’t be frightened to do things you normally won’t do, and just because something doesn’t interest you, does not mean it is not the right thing for you to do at this moment in time. Failing to pitch in and help wherever you can, will be remembered.  Turn your hand to everything and anything to help out, you will certainly be seen as helpful and who knows it might lead to new unexplored opportunities. 

Lead from the front. Don’t ask your team to risk something if you are unwilling to pitch in yourself; it’s time to get your hands dirty. 

Be thankful for what you have and focus on the things that are important to you. In times like these health and family should be your focus, but have chats with colleagues, pick up the phone and have virtual coffees. Don’t be a stranger. 

Work and life have fundamentally changed. What was once deemed normal is now not, so look for the positives and embrace the unknown, because I will be damned if this doesn’t lead to a new and exciting chapter in my working and personal life. Stay safe.

About Dougie

Dougie joined Kainos in 1997 as a placement student and worked for 15 years at SMEs across Northern Ireland, rising to the role of Delivery Lead. He re-joined Kainos in 2012 and has occupied several roles since then, including Client Service Manager in our Evolve product team, before taking up his current role of IT Service Operations Manager.