chief executive officer
This Week in Leadership
Purpose is Powering Through the Pandemic
Best-selling author Dan Goleman on why “stakeholder” capitalism, defying skeptics, has gained more traction during the pandemic.
Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.
I flew on an airplane just once before college. Starting with my first job at KPMG after graduation, however, I began to fly more frequently—and later, while I was with an investment bank, I started to live on planes.
Through all this travel, I learned an invaluable lesson: the unexpected is always expected.
I can remember being on one particular flight, about 20 years ago, from Los Angeles to New York. We were supposed to land at JFK, but we couldn’t because of a blizzard. As we circled low over the New York area, I tuned into the audio channel that, back then, allowed passengers to listen to the conversation between the cockpit and air traffic control.
During the discussion of whether to land at JFK, try Newark, or fly to Philadelphia, the pilot asked about a plane that had just touched down. I was dismayed by air traffic control’s candid answer: “Yeah, they landed—if you want to call it that.”
Finally, we somehow landed at Newark where we sat on the tarmac, waiting for a gate, and then even longer to get our bags. I barely made my meeting. After that, I promised myself I’d always be prepared, starting with what I could control. No matter where or when I flew, I would always carry on my bag.
That lesson paid off many years later when I was en route to Madrid to give a speech, with a connection in London’s Heathrow Airport. The flight was diverted because of a snowstorm, and we landed in Shannon, Ireland. The pilot announced over the intercom that we’d probably be stuck there for 14 hours because the crew had exceeded their legal flying time. As I nervously pondered what to do, I looked out the window. No other planes were at the gates. It was clear that I would be stuck if I didn’t take control.
While everyone else waited on the plane for further instructions, I asked if I could deboard. So, I grabbed my carry-on, rented a car, and drove 120 kilometers through Ireland along country roads in the rain to the city of Cork. There, I got the last available seat (the last row, middle seat) on a cheap regional airline and landed at Heathrow around midnight. I stayed at an airport hotel with all the ambience of a minimum-security prison and got up at 4:30 in the morning to catch the flight to Madrid. But I made it on time.
You can’t control the weather, but you can adjust your sails.
And that’s what we are trying to do, right now. The pandemic is worsening in some parts of the world. Phase 3…Phase 4…back to Phase 3. State to state, region to region, it’s a patchwork of different economic realities, which seem to shift like the wind.
Across any global organization—with different phases and stages for any place at any given time—leaders must navigate in the moment.
To navigate is to make proactive, purposeful decisions to accelerate through the crisis curve. Most decisions these days seem to be a good decision—until they are no longer a good decision. Then it’s time to course-correct, in real time, with another decision.
The times we are in call for “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.”
Here are some thoughts:
When we’re in the thick of it—the turbulence, the storm, the crisis—clouds of uncertainty and ambiguity shade the horizon. But the horizon is ahead. Embrace the unexpected to be expected. Look up, look out, look forward. Perspective is usually liberating!