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The CEO of Boston Consulting Group reveals the 4 most important skills leaders need to build a resilient team that can survive any crisis

Rich Lesser, president and CEO at Boston Consulting Group.
  • Effective leadership during the pandemic involves empathy and a realignment of your long-term goals with both employees and vendors.
  • Business Insider recently spoke with Rich Lesser, CEO at Boston Consulting Group, about the key traits leaders need right now to withstand the pandemic and come out stronger.
  • Lesser recommended that executives leverage a "commander's intent," by being clear about their goals, what they're trying to achieve, and what their short- and long-term expectations are. 
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Executive leadership isn't just about making tough calls during the coronavirus pandemic — and it's also about supporting your workforce through adversity.
That's according to Rich Lesser, president and CEO at leading consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG) who said business leaders need a few key skills if they want to remain resilient throughout the pandemic.
"There's an old saying — you only know who your friends really are when things get tough — and I think that society, customers, and employees will be looking at businesses in how they're responding during this time," Lesser said.
Lesser joined BCG in 1988 as a consultant advising organizations on leadership, strategy, operations, and large transformation projects. Prior to being appointed CEO in 2013, he also served as the head of New York Metro's division and the chairman of North and South America at BCG for 12 years.
Making sure that your company can survive this crisis will involve some hard choices, he said. But how you assess choices, the intent behind your decisions, and the way they're communicated will ultimately impact your workforce's perception of your business. And if you do it right, you will have more loyal and productive employees, Lesser added.
Here are four key traits the Lesser said you need in order to successfully lead through the pandemic and come out stronger.

Establish your values early on 

It's important for leaders to have a clear corporate purpose, by pinpointing exactly who they are and what they stand for as leaders. Now is the time for you to reiterate your purpose and values to your workforce, he added.
"There's a much heavier responsibility now for companies to communicate to the broader public, and to the world, about how they're living their purpose during an extraordinarily difficult time," Lesser said.
Lesser's argument is backed by science. Rebecca Henderson, a Harvard Business School professor who spent years analyzing companies, found that the top 10% of the most productive corporations are high-performing because they are purpose-driven, Business Insider previously reported. Even after the financial crisis, these companies grew substantially and came out stronger, Henderson explained.
Lesser recommended that leaders leverage what the military call the "commander's intent," or being crystal clear about their goals, what they're trying to achieve, and what their expectations are for everyone.
"Clarity is especially important now as you need to move very quickly and often in new directions during a crisis," he said. "You need to be on the same page."

Keep your long-term goals in mind

Your short-term and long-term strategies are equally important, and you should start planning now, Lesser said.
"While you're making the short-term decisions to deal with the shutdowns or the disrupted supply chains, you also need to think about what will happen in a few months as we start to rebound the business, and what will happen [after the pandemic], when new and reimagining opportunities come forward," he said.
Working on both short- and long-term goals may involve redesigning your teams and org chart. This involves assigning designated teams to oversee different parts of the coronavirus response, he added. Having structured teams to deal with different aspects of the crisis can increase productivity.
"You got to cut through the bureaucracy — that's really an objective of every CEO in every top grade," Lesser said. "When the world is literally changing by the day, you need to ensure that normal processes and procedures designed for a very different time are not getting in the way of reaching and executing decisions in a fast and effective manner."

Engage your employees, vendors, and clients

Be visible and transparent with your workforce, customers, and your vendors.
It's important for CEOs to engage on a regular basis, Lesser said. Corporate leaders should keep open communication lines with your employees, customers, and suppliers. Small business owners should connect with their customers online and shift operations to the digital space, he added.
The CEO told Business Insider that apart from his concerns over the rising death toll and how COVID-19 is impacting families around the world, he is most worried about the small business owners who have seen their profits decline overnight. These companies may not have the resilience or money to sustain after the pandemic, he said.
"Take advantage of the lifeline that the government has thrown, and I really hope we'll soon see an increase in the amount of loans available to small businesses," Lesser said. "I encourage them to communicate with other small businesses and find a community in that. Actively communicate with customers because you do want them back as soon as business pick back up."

Keep your imagination alive

Remember that things will get better.
Though coronavirus has caused major economic upheaval, Lesser urged leaders to keep their imagination alive and stay positive. Recognize that this is a huge opportunity to innovative the way people work, and that it's a transformation for the better, he said.
"When people are under stress and organizations are under stress, there's a tendency to hunker down and just focus on the here and the now," he said. "But preserve a sense of optimism about a better day and keep a spark of creativity alive — even at a time where much of the organization is focused on near term execution."
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* This article was originally published here
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