We always learn a ton about how leaders are thinking about challenges, and their approaches are to address these headwinds through our executive coaching and consulting work at The ExCo Group, and our multiple interview series with senior leaders. In today’s increasingly complex and remote world, here are a few ideas that stuck with us. 

How do you build Culture in a WFH environment?

Driving cultural transformation in a work-from-home environment can be especially challenging. The Journal of People+Strategy had an insightful Q&A with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Here are a couple of highlights:

“How do we maintain the social capital that comes from being together in the workplace? While we are building some new forms of social capital, we’re also burning some of the social capital we’ve built over time, and we will need to replenish that.”  

Add this the endless list of leadership challenges: How do you build culture and cohesiveness when so many people are working remotely?

On resetting Microsoft’s mission: “We asked ourselves, ‘what would be lost if Microsoft just disappeared?’ We had to answer for ourselves, ‘what is the company about? Why do we exist?’”

Satya’s “what would be lost” provocation is useful for any organization as that it grounds the discussion about mission and purpose in concrete terms, rather than the too-lofty and vague statements that many companies adopt.

What are the critical qualities to lead through uncertainty? 

One of the biggest challenges facing boards and leaders right now is planning. Margaret Heffernan, best-selling author and Ted talk star, has an incredibly timely book out called, “Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future.” In an issue of People+Strategy, she elaborated on themes of the book that included this powerful reminder of what will set the best companies and leaders apart in this new environment. 

“Those who rise to the leadership challenge will be outstanding convenors, better chosen for their skepticism and curiosity than their confidence. They may be more similar to artists than engineers. Collecting voices, structuring exploration, keen listening and synthesizing success and failure will be the focus of their work. They need to be excellent interrogators of the ecosystems in which they reside, aware of where they fit and the impact of their decisions on others. Being able to reconcile opposites—efficiency and robustness, complicated and complex—is a hallmark of their adaptive minds. Successful leaders will have to hold the tension between urgency and integrity, to stiffen resolve for what is confusing, frustrating and frightening and to resist simplifying what is innately complex. They cannot be expected to deliver reliable perfection, but they can and should be held to account for decisions that can be explained and understood.”

We will be hosting a live webcast with Heffernan on September 29th at 5pm ET. Be sure to check out the event and register.

Are you looking for opportunities?

The challenge of long-term planning has come up as a running theme in many of our interviews. For our directors series, we spoke with Eric Spiegel, the former CEO of Siemens USA about his extensive experience on private and public boards. He shared this perspective about not responding to uncertainty with broad-brush actions. 

“The pandemic has hit different businesses disproportionately. Some of them are doing great and are ahead of plan. Others have ground to a halt. They may be cutting costs and laying people off, but you want to make sure the cuts don’t go too deep because there is an investment in the business that has to be protected. It really requires understanding things at a greater level of detail in each division rather than looking at the overall average of the company’s performance. 

You also have to make sure you’re looking at opportunities, and not just firefighting, because all this disruption has created a lot of opportunities, both for organic growth and also for potential acquisitions. You can get so hunkered down and shortsighted that you miss how part of the industry is changing and creating opportunities to improve your position.”

Finally, in these uncertain times, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Leadership coaching can help accelerate performance against your organization’s strategy today, and prepare them to deliver on tomorrow’s.

This article was contributed by The ExCo Group, an executive coaching and leadership development firm comprised of experienced former CEOs, independent directors, and global business leaders.