Charlotte Street Partners

VIEW FROM THE STREET

VIEW FROM THE STREET

Keep an eye on the long-term

Written by Malacolm Robertson, founding partner
20 March 2020

These are deeply unsettling and upsetting times for all of us – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Business owners and leaders in all walks of life. 

Uniquely in recent times, this is not just an economic crisis; it is a public health crisis and not a single person is immune from the virus at its centre, whether presidents and prime ministers or our loved ones. So, theworry that inevitably comes with financial stress is compounded by one’s thoughts for the welfare of those we care about, and ourselves. 

Nobody knows for how long this period of uncertainty and concern will last, but it will end at some point and a substantial effort will be invested in a recovery. 

The resilience of business and political leaders will be tested like never before, as will the organisations they represent. But this is a long-distance endurance run with no map, and not the 100-metre hurdles.  

The welfare of the people around the top table cannot be overlooked, and thesimple things like rest, exercise, and sleep will influence your response in theshort-term and your ability to see clearly what needs to be done when the dust settles and the world starts to move on. 

Care for colleagues, partners and suppliers matters too. When we are in crisis, we need friends much more than retrenchment. Financial modelling matters but should take second place to doing what we know to be the right thing.  

In any crisis, the short-term demand for meaningful information, the kind uponwhich good business or personal decisions can be made, is insatiable. It feels hard – near impossible sometimes – to keep up with the firefighting of the present moment. Too often, the job of putting the house back together when the flames have been extinguished is left for another day. 

But however dark it feels now, the light will inevitably return. Life will go on and so the importance of holding one’s nerve and having one eye on the long-termcannot be overstated. Whatever the temptation, however pressured you feel, do not take rash decisions now which might have far-reaching and profound implications for your reputation in the months and years to come. 

During times of adversity, leaders either earn their (often handsome) rewards, or they fail. They are the ones to whom employees or, at home, children, look for information, but also a measure of comfort and reassurance – or at the very least an honest view of what you know and what you don’t know. Whether or not to take a public profile is no longer a reasonable question for leaders. It is now what you say, when you say it and what tone you strike. 

These are the moments in which leaders learn the real meaning of accountability. Having been on the frontline of a number of high-profile business crises, I have observed at close hand the way companies and their senior leaders and boards respond to the most challenging of circumstances. I have seen how they and their people can be affected emotionally and particularly by fatigue, and why keeping one eye on the long-term is a fundamental part of the job right now. 

Leaders must lead, of course. But nobody should feel they are alone in times of crisis. Senior teams – and their advisers – must come together, share theburden, discuss difficult decisions and weigh-up the likely ramifications of those actions, not only in the near term, but far into the future.   

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