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El Cóndor Pasa

El condor pasa by Erik Hipe

Stress is the natural human response to a fuzzy, foggy, and complicated world. Unfortunately, it can make us lose control and lose sight of the bigger picture. In these difficult times, do we need a different sort of leadership model?

by Erik Hiep, Professor of Leadership and Management at IE Business School.


I am currently on a consulting assignment for a company in Lima. As we speak, Peru is in total lockdown, with no flights in or out of the country. Thanks to a strict curfew enforced by military patrols, the streets are empty. Against the backdrop of this corona-shaped landscape, the company I am advising needs to define its plan for 2020 and beyond.

So, what are we focusing on? Will we subconsciously allow fear and anxiety to grab our attention? Or will we make conscious decisions about what we really need, and then dedicate our time, energy, and effort to this new way forward?

Of course, the latter is what leaders need to do. As a leader, you need to make important decisions now in order to emerge from the crisis even stronger than before. The key question, of course, is whether there is truly a difference between leadership in these trying “corona times” and leadership in a more normal business environment.

Different leadership?

Leaders and followers want speed, clarity, and direction. But sometimes we need to take our time, brainstorm, and think things over. Carve out time to really think things through and discuss key topics with your trusted inner circle.

Way back in the 20th century, I was educated at the Dutch Royal Military Academy to become an infantry officer. We were taught that adaptability is the key differentiator—more important than muscle, bravery, perseverance, and the like. To be sure, that other stuff is also absolutely essential on the battlefield. You cannot neglect it. But you have to be adaptable, as well.

Back then, we learned to speed up sometimes and to slow down sometimes. The most important thing is to create a winning strategy with a super clear and simple plan. Early in my career, I learned that complexity is the enemy of execution. Making a good and simple plan is never easy. It takes a lot to come up with a solid plan with full clarity and a straight direction.

The bigger picture

The world is almost always fuzzy, foggy, and complicated. A crisis leads to stress, pressure, and the need to manage many contingencies at once. It is easy to lose control and lose sight of the bigger picture.

In such situations, complexity must be avoided. It is best to fall back on one basic rule: simple stuff works. As a leader, you must avoid panic and stress. Of course, you have to be able to enter the pressure cooker and quickly discuss various scenarios with capable, passionate professionals. But when you emerge from that place, you must once again be calm, composed, and in control; fast-paced but never in a hurry.