Navigating economic turbulence with confidence: Turbulence is the old, new normal
A couple of weeks ago, a Lufthansa flight travelling from Texas, US, to Germany was diverted to Virginia's Washington Dulles International Airport because of turbulence that left seven passengers injured.
It is interesting to note that this was a clear sky turbulence and not a storm they were flying through.
According to industry experts, the aviation industry will experience more frequent occurrences of mild to severe turbulence in the years ahead. This situation is not different for economies and businesses around the world.
The global business environment has become more complex with increasing geo-political risks.
It’s almost certain that leaders and organisations will encounter more frequent turbulent economic conditions going forward.
Back at home, it’s safe to say that Ghana’s economy is experiencing a severe form of turbulence.
Just when we were coming out of a self-inflicted banking crisis, Covid-19 showed up. After battling Covid-19 we now have to contend with a debt crisis. Indeed, turbulence is the new normal.
Lessons from the Aviation industry
Unfortunately, turbulence does not bring out the best in leaders as many leaders yield to irrational behaviour and take bad decisions.
The good news is that the aviation industry knows how to deal with turbulence. There is no other industry globally that’s organised to respond better to turbulence daily than the aviation industry.
This is the reason most turbulence incidents do not result in plane crashes or fatalities no matter how severe they may be.
Gleaning insights from the role pilots and airplane manufacturers play to withstand turbulence, here are five noteworthy ideas leaders can adopt to lead their organisations through economic turbulence and emerge stronger.
1. Convey calm
Just as passengers are asked to remain calm and buckle up with their seat belts to reduce injuries during turbulence, you need to maintain composure in difficult times.
Leaders need to take a strategic pause. The demands on leaders are many and this gets amplified during a period of turbulence.
The key to accelerating in a time of turbulence is to slow down. Clarity comes not from chaos but from calm.
From a place of calm, leaders can use their energy for important manoeuvres and acceleration rather than dissipating them on noise and resistance. Leaders mustn’t appear flustered by the turbulence. Pilots do not scream, turbulence. Keep calm.
2. Communicate with clarity and consistency
Pilots also engage passengers with a clear, consistent and calming message regularly during times of turbulence.
This not only gives reassurance but also provides passengers with an update on the situation. Leaders must open and maintain effective communication pathways during difficult times.
Leaders earn the trust of their teams when they provide regular updates to teams rather than holding on to information as a result of uncertainties regarding business decisions.
Also, another important part of communication is being a better listener.
Designing effective systems for early detection of warning signals from the environment enables leaders to respond before the situation becomes too treacherous and out of control.
We see that in turbulent times, pilots stay tuned to weather conditions and communicate with crew on the ground, and other flights continuously on the status of the flight path.
3. Connect for care and collaborate
Another lesson we can draw from the aviation industry is the unique ability of pilots and attendants to focus on caring for clients despite the turbulence.
Pilots also connect with various stakeholders for support and direction as they attempt to navigate the turbulence.
Leaders will be better off if they connect with their teams and ask for support to ride out the storm.
Management teams cannot lock themselves into meetings upon meetings believing that they are the only individuals with answers to the challenges of the moment.
Engage your team and you will be surprised at the innovation within the lower ranks of the organisation.
Leaders must also show care by offering resources that enable teams to thrive in turbulent times.
4. Be ready to course-correct
Leaders need to understand that they have to be ready to course-correct. Pilots make course corrections all the time.
They either go around the turbulence, climb higher or descend. They do not stop to ask why we have turbulence today.
They take the information and adjust accordingly. Since we use a lot of emotional and mental resources to resist turbulence, it is important to be flexible.
This frees up energy to tackle the challenges of today, anticipate new opportunities, and plan for new actions.
Leaders must be ready to adjust their plans quickly, even if it means experimenting with small shifts. Don't work with yesterday's logic until it is too late.
5. Contextualise turbulence for your organisation, and your leadership
The nature of the terrain requires that airplane manufacturers build planes to withstand the strongest form of turbulence imaginable before the planes take to the skies. Hardly would you hear that a plane dropped from the sky as a result of turbulence.
Leaders must design and build organisations to be more resilient. This must be the foundation of resilient strategies for all organisations.
Since turbulence is inevitable, leaders need to embrace it and be more purposeful in their approach to leading their organisations. Organisational processes and systems must be designed to overcome business turbulence.
I hope these ideas help you to navigate the turbulence ahead. Remember, strong winds make strong trees.
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Programme, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory.
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