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As tragic and as challenging as the Covid-19 pandemic has been, if you look closely enough, you’ll discover that it has also contained some important and timeless leadership lessons.

Among the most important principles, it has taught us this powerful truth:

In tumultuous times, hold your vision tightly and your strategies loosely.

I have come to refer to this as the PLP: the Pandemic Leadership Principle.

On March 13th, 2020, the truth of this principle became very real to me as I found myself sitting in a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, wondering how, or if, I would be able to return home to Chicago.

That day, the United States had declared Covid-19 a National Emergency and had announced air travel from Europe to the United States for non-U.S. citizens was now being closed.

In tumultuous times, hold your vision tightly and your strategies loosely.

I quickly recognized I had a potentially serious problem on my hands. My travel itinerary home from Africa was to see me leave Johannesburg in a few days’ time with flights to Frankfurt, Germany, then connecting on to Chicago. But now, for Americans and U.S. Permanent Residents (like me), getting home through Europe was looking tenuous, at best.

But this is where the Pandemic Leadership Principle kicked in. My vision remained unchanged; I wanted to get home to Chicago. But now I needed to be agile and flexible when it came to my strategy; my itinerary would need to be adaptable.

Some 48 stress-filled hours later, I was safely home. My vision (return home) had remained unflinchingly consistent, but my strategy (my original travel itinerary) had to be quickly changed. But the lessons that the Pandemic Leadership Principle would teach me were just beginning.

Following the initiative of The Global Leadership Summit here in the United States, which immediately adapted to a digital model, we began to overhaul our international strategy as well.

This meant:

  • Transitioning 184 sites around the world from an in-person model to a digital model
  • Creating hundreds of “community micro-gatherings” in the developing world, where data was unavailable or too expensive for many people
  • In countries like India, re-formatting the GLS to be “Smart Phone Friendly”, knowing that thousands of people would be experiencing the Summit on their personal devices

The vision never changed—Excellent leadership was needed even more so now.

The strategies were overhauled.

As you and your team continue the challenging work of navigating your organization through this tumultuous season, take time this week to conduct a Pandemic Leadership Principle audit with your team by working through these six questions:

  1. How committed are we to the mission and vision of the organization?
  2. How could we reenergize our organization around our mission and vision?
  3. If we were starting our organization today, in today’s reality, which of our current strategies would we retain?
  4. Which strategies would we jettison?
  5. What new strategies would we introduce?
  6. What obstacles to these changes can we anticipate and remove?

As I sat in my Johannesburg hotel in March of 2020, my unwavering vision had never been clearer. Nor had my willingness to completely change my strategy to accomplish that vision.

As you continue to lead through these tumultuous times, may the same Pandemic Leadership Principle help your own leadership to thrive, as you hold your vision tightly and your strategies loosely.

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