Challenge the Status Quo: the power of courageous leadership in Unstable times

2020 has been a very difficult year for everybody due to COVID-19 and it has disrupted the way we do business.  As I speak with clients this year, I notice that many of them are waiting for everything to pass before they do any investing into their initiatives due to the need to conserve cash flow and resources.   Although I understand the need to be cautious during this period of unknown, it is also a perfect opportunity to use this time where everybody else is retrenching to actually grow and gain market share.  The Status Quo is easy because it is comfortable, but it is not your friend, it is your biggest enemy.  It makes you feel that you are reducing risk and that the outcomes you see today will be the outcomes you see tomorrow.  Nobody likes unknowns and we as leaders are taught to mitigate risk.  However, a courageous leader knows that you are falling behind if you are not marching forward.

Is now a good time for you to start a startup?

For example, I considered postponing the startup of my business Proformance Consultants until next year due to the Coronavirus, but I started thinking about it and came to the conclusion that starting my business during this economic climate was actually the perfect time.  There are many companies looking for ways to reduce spending or gain revenue and I am actually helping organizations achieve their goals and thrive in a bad market.  You see successful companies looking outside in times of crises to determine where to save costs and make responsible business decisions.  Whenever one of my clients achieve success as a result of my advisory services, I realize I made the right decision to take action instead of being satisfied with the status quo.

When is the best time to invest in the stock market?

Understand that during every economic downturn, you have a reshuffling of the deck and you have courageous leaders seeing the downturn as an opportunity.  A simple analogy is when is the best time to invest in the stock market?  Do you invest when everything is great, and the stocks are high or is it better to buy stocks when the prices are low and undervalued.  People tend to go into their bunkers and ride out the storm but while you are doing that, your competitors are leaving you behind.  It is not easy to make decisions when there are so many unknowns, but courageous leaders see this as a time for action.

Is Coronavirus Rewriting the Future of Business

Did you know that there are many businesses that are ripe for startup innovation this year? Home Improvement has a 140% growth in consumer interest.  Gardening and Plumbing has seen a 245% increase in page views this year as people are learning to do some of the chores, they used to contract out themselves.  Other areas of growth include Pet Products with 50% growth in consumer interest.  Did you known that people in New York have adopted 10x as many pets this year as normal and that Los Angeles has seen a 70% increase in adoptions from shelters.  Home Beauty Products, Gaming, Fitness and Health are all seeing huge amounts of growth.  If you are an entrepreneur, this is your moment.    

Proformance Courageous Leadership and Status Quo

The top 3 reasons why the status quo is your enemy:

  1. Decisions Take Longer to Make. The status quo gives you a false sense of security.  You see success as a leader, and you tend to do the same things that got you where you are today.  However, the status quo lessens the sense of urgency and it becomes easier to just put off today what can be done tomorrow.  This can cause an organization to miss opportunities.
  2. Your Growth is Stifled through Risk Avoidance. As a PMO Leader for the past 20 years, I am the first to tell people how important it is to mitigate risk.  However, Risk Avoidance is not the same as Risk Mitigation.  Yes, there are times you want to avoid risk at all costs but there are also times you will want to invest time and resources into initiatives that will give you a healthy return on investment.  The Status Quo creates missed opportunities while the courageous leader embraces opportunities.
  3. You Lose the ability to Innovate.  Innovation is the best way to move past your competition.  You can tell when you are in an organization that embraces the Status Quo because the mindset of the organization is one where a new idea is challenged because “this is the way we have always done it”.  Lack of Innovation = Stagnation.  Did you know that more than half of the companies that once appeared on the Fortune 500 have disappeared in the past 20 years?

How do you actually go about being a courageous leader and eliminating you biggest enemy, the Status Quo?

I admit that is can be very tough because you must be in a position of influence where you can drive organizational change.  It is sad to see innovative staff leave risk-averse organizations and thrive with success in organizations that appreciate action and innovation.  For a person who embraces change, it is very frustrating being in an organization unwilling to make calculated risks or innovate.  As a leader, you need to destroy the Status Quo but also be a beacon of change and courage by allowing you staff to grow.  Most organizations do not reward independent thinking or risk-taking.  Unfortunately, many organizations equate courageous unconventional thinking to being risk-excess or foolish.  I would never recommend making a decision without careful planning.  However, many organizations allow the status quo to survive because they are unable to make a decision due to analysis paralysis. Below are the five steps a courageous leader can take to challenge the Status Quo.

  1. Use Guiding Principles to drive Decision-Making. The courageous leader should always develop a core value set which becomes his or her guiding principles.  With the unknowns of this economy and the disruptions we see with COVID-19, it is important to use those guiding principles to make good decisions. Your guiding principles will help you to look at the long-term objectives which will give you sustained success.  In a practical sense this means that you will not betray your core values or your mission just because you see a short-term benefit.  An example of this might be laying off staff just to make financial projections this quarter while knowing that it will hurt your product development next quarter and reduce revenue later.  Sometimes this means making courageous decisions that are not popular today, but you know is right for the direction of your organization. 
  2. Use Authentic Leadership to Build Your Team. Authentic Leadership involves building trust with you team and communicating your vision.  By doing this, you will develop a team who believes in you and your mission.  It is important to speak the truth on all issues no matter how difficult it might be.  The Courageous Leader is successful because he or she is authentic and has a team that believes in the leader’s vision once the team establishes trust. You need to communicate and share that vision with all stakeholders and get them onboard.  Communicating your vision effectively goes beyond your immediate team and includes your customers and prospects.  Without a team that truly believes in your vision, you will get yes people who will appear to be on your side when things are going well but will challenge every change decision behind your back.  The danger of your team not believing in your vision is that your organization will lose motivation which will negatively affect productivity and be detrimental to the bottom line.
  3. Transform Fear into Success.Change will always produce fear and there is change that you are creating as a leader and change that is occurring due to external factors such what we are seeing with the disruptions due to COVID-19.  The courageous leader will acknowledge the fears instead of trying to ignore them or diminish them as not important.  Part of transforming fear into success is proactively seeking out customer perception fears.  You want to understand the reasons a client or team member is unable to support your position.  In many cases, it is because of the fear that people have.  Maybe you are a smaller company and the potential client fears that you are too small to actually help them. Maybe your team fears that your vision will not work because they have never seen it done before.  Getting all of these fears onto the table helps in driving decisions.  Many times, just acknowledging the fear is enough for your team to support your vision. There is the example of the music industry. Many music labels that were successful twenty years ago are no longer in business because they feared changing their business model.  They knew that consumers would stop buying CDs and start streaming music in a few years but did nothing.  They had that fear but did not acknowledge it to their customers, suppliers or employees.   The music labels with transformational leaders embraced the change in consumer buying.  Naysayers said that making money off of streaming music was impossible and that 95% of the music would be pirated.  However, you see many successful music labels today that reinvented themselves and changed their business model from physical CD’s to digital streaming.  The face of the customer demanded this change and those courageous leaders embraced the change and are even more successful today.
  4. Commit to a Vision which is Memorable.It is important to have a vision which is memorable.  How many times have you worked for a company and you could not even recite their vision statement?  The courageous leader is successful because he or she creates a memorable vision.  The best example of a memorable vision and goal is when President John F Kennedy said to a joint session of congress on May 25, 1961 that before the end of the decade, the United States would land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.  Many people forget the second part of returning him safely to the Earth but that is an important part of the vision.  The memorable part of the vision is putting a man on the moon. Imagine how motivated the people of NASA were in achieving that vision?  By having such a memorable vision and goal, you are increasing acceptance with your team and customers.  Courageous changes and innovations that are consistent with purpose are more likely to succeed. 
  5. Be a Leader of Action and Innovation. The first four steps are related to the soft skills of leadership. Step five is about being a leader of action and innovation.  It is not enough to say the right things or to talk the talk.  The courageous leader will actually pull the trigger.  Without action, the other four steps are irrelevant, and you will not be successful.  Too many organizations can have wonderful goals but still fail.  Those companies on the Fortune 500 list 20 years ago that are no longer around today probably all had a great mission statement.  I believe that there is not any stronger attribute of leadership than demonstrating the courage to take continuous and regular action on your goals and innovations.  Too many organizations spend their time in extended analysis instead of making decisions that can bring about positive results and benefits.  Can you afford to remain in the status quo? Time is of the essence and there is no better time than now to take action and start seeing success. 

If you follow the steps outlined above, you can build and lead a team with a culture of courage in a time of unknowns.  You can grow your business or organization and compete in a dynamic market while staying ahead of your competitors who are playing it safe during COVID-19.  There is still a world of opportunity out there during these crazy times and by growing in an economic downturn, you are well-positioned for ongoing success when things return to normal. 


James Proctor, Managing Partner

[email protected]

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