The Flexible Method: prepare to prosper in the next global crisis
“James Burstall is a thoughtful, constructive, and strategic leader. He has weathered many storms and leader from every industry will find this an invaluable took.” – Gloria Hunniford OBE, Presenter and Broadcaster
CEO of Aragon, an international production group, producing shows like The Masked Singer and Dispatches, James Burstall has proven himself a successful leader by guiding the company through recessions, natural disasters, and pandemics.
James Burstall has an impressive tenure behind his career, one he uses in his book The Flexible Method to highlight 16 concise lessons to demonstrate how you can turn disasters into opportunities. The TV industry has taken a large hit in the past few years, but through methods found in this book, problems can turn into solutions no matter what crisis is thrown at your company next.
Here is an extract from The Flexible Method: prepare to prosper in the next global crisis by James Burstall.
Whatever you’re feeling inside, in a crisis you must present a strong, calm and purposeful face to your team. Save the outpouring of your emotions for your most trusted inner circle or your loved ones. Channel your anxiety and fear into positive energy. Turn venom into rocket fuel.
At times like this people are crying out for clear, decisive and authentic leadership. But how are you supposed to respond to an all-consuming crisis?
First off: don’t panic. Listen to your quiet inner voice. It’s got you to where you are today. It will now help guide you in the darkest of times and help you navigate the road ahead. Do not look for quick fixes. This is crucial in these moments of crisis. I’m not suggesting you prevaricate either, as fast decisions may be required, but don’t act in haste. Take the time you need to make a decision. Take a deep breath, sleep on a major decision overnight if you can. Stress skews your brain. It’s better to act at a measured pace on a good decision than rush into a bad one where the consequences could be unhelpful or even catastrophic.
Lead with purpose
As well as demonstrating calmness, your leadership must have a purpose. This will make it credible. As you communicate you should make each step that you outline part of an evolving narrative towards targets and deadlines everybody can understand and buy into.
Setting goals, even short-term at the outset, is critical. At the beginning of the pandemic, at Argonon we set ourselves daily targets, including reaching out to everyone across the business, making sure everyone had access to Teams, speaking directly to every single client across the world.
Soon our goals became weekly. Translating government guidance into a company strategy, rescheduling filming on a production, identifying local crews in far-flung countries. And then, with momentum behind us and confidence building, those targets became monthly. I then set 1 June as a deadline for us to resume production.
We found that setting targets and deadlines that everybody could understand, support and collectively aim towards enabled us to move forward as a team in one direction. I believe this is the backbone of a calm, purposeful approach.
During a crisis, the best course of action is always to face up to the worst, be honest about the situation and don’t try to hide from the dark stuff.
This is very much a time for humility. Remember first and foremost that there is a personal cost – not just a business one. Empathize with your people. Listen to their
concerns. Some of our team were getting sick from Covid early on; one lost a loved one. We felt for them and shared it, discreetly. Nobody could be left behind in this tsunami.
Communicate clearly, frequently and frankly, while presenting a calm and purposeful plan of action. I found an email to the team every morning was a good way to start. I wanted everybody in the group to know that I was there for them. A kindly, realistic voice in the silence, who was on their side, watching out for them and proactively seeking a way through.
Were you able to get an objective sense or concrete feedback on how you were perceived by your team during a crisis? It is hard to strike the right balance between empathy and strength. Two way communication is key..
One course you should avoid is to simply pretend everything is going to be fine.
We all crave optimism, but there’s no point in sugar-coating the situation. I made a point of rooting all my communication in the real world as things evolved. Anything less would have been dishonest and people need to trust and believe their leaders. This doesn’t mean you have to be a pessimist. Temper your optimism with realism – excessive confidence in such an obviously difficult situation would lose credibility.
Consistency counts for a lot. It is reassuring for your team and will help you steer a steady course.
Act with radical determination
Once you have identified those first steps, keep moving forward – don’t look back, there’s no time to waste. Your next actions must be carried out with kindness and empathy, but once the decisions are made, nothing must stop you pushing through the agenda to get the job done.
This is another of the pillars of the Flexible Method: fierce commitment to getting the job completed.
A crisis is always an opportunity to learn and try something different. Remember the firms that switched to producing PPE and sanitiser? We didn’t do that in my organization, although we used plenty of both. But we did have a lot of original ideas.– Flexible, out-of-the-box thinking is good practice at any time, but never more important than in a crisisBuy Now