The Guarantee
June 1

COVID-19 Reveals Most Capable Leaders

In times of crisis, the path forward is not always clear, especially when it’s a crisis you haven’t had the misfortune of navigating before such as a global pandemic on the scale of COVID-19. That lack of clarity can understandably slow decision making as you wait for the ideal path forward to reveal itself with certainty and little risk.


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Explained in a 2012 Forbes article called “Seven Ways to Conquer Indecision,” former Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry professor, Steven Berglas, refers to this indecision as the “’Executive Yips,’ like the kind a golfer suffers when sweating over a three-foot straight-uphill put.” The “Executive Yips” cause many an executive paralyzing fear that, after narrowing down decision-making options, causes them to freeze and fail to act. Many a times they’ll turn to a friend or colleague to ask for advice, which isn’t curing the problem at all — as the problem isn’t really about making the right choice but about what is blocking that executive from taking action.

Don’t beat yourself up. Even the most highly capable leaders experience occasional indecision. What positions them ahead of the pack, however, is their ability to identify the cause of the stall and obliterate it before an opportunity is missed.

Given the economic uncertainty projected to persist through the fall, a reasonable conclusion is that companies must determine how to grow revenue in this new normal versus continuing a wait-and-see, cost-cutting approach. The ability to grow in spite of market chaos will separate the most capable leaders from the pack when the economy rebounds.

So, how do you identify the root cause? And when you do, what strategies will support you in pulling the trigger even when your tendency may be to stand still?

Prioritize the fear:

The best place to start is to list all of the undesirable outcomes of a decision — every single one that’s causing you to hesitate in charging forward. For example, your head probably knows that now is not the time to carry salespeople who were low performers prior to the pandemic. If they’ve been with you awhile, you may be battling the fear of letting them (and their families) down against the fear of not driving enough sales to cover payroll and causing your company to fail. With your fears documented, now force-rank them. This exercise will allow you to decide which fear is most important. If your fear of company failure outranks your fear of letting people down, then you have your decision.

Abandon the fear of looking stupid:

The more intelligent you are, the higher the likelihood that the fear that drives you most often is the fear of looking stupid. What’s more, this fear often grows as you find more success in your career. It can be debilitating and can limit your ability to take risks. Ironically, if you’re a business owner, it likely took a number of risks for you to find your current success, and now it’s the fear of risk that could be your undoing if you don’t keep this fear in check. One of the best strategies for overcoming this fear is to be mindful that some of the most successful people are only able to maintain that success because of their receptivity to new thinking which they can only gain by being vulnerable with others and admitting they don’t know it all.

Be cautious of gathering too many choices:

When business executives are hesitant to make a decision, they often seek input from those around them which generally has the opposite from the intended result. All that shopping for advice generally does for you is lengthen the list of choices which can further exasperate your decision making if the real issue wasn’t a lack of choices but instead a fear of pulling the trigger.

Fail fast and pivot quickly:

If COVID-19 has a silver lining, this is it: we learned that most business executives can innovate far faster than they thought. Why? Because they had to. What’s stopping you from innovating this quickly outside of a crisis? Often it’s the fear of launching a product or service that is less than perfect. Instead of seeing lack of perfection as failure, look at it for what it is — a necessity to agile innovation. Embrace the fact that your goal is to throw an imperfect new product, service or campaign out there to see how the market reacts. If you get a strong reaction, then begin to perfect. It saves a lot of time and often allows you to be more responsive to consumer needs, ideally faster than your competitors.

Accept that indecision is an illusion:

In reality, lack of a decision is a decision in and of itself. If that’s the decision you’re making, you must acknowledge the outcome of that decision. What opportunities will be missed? What ground will be lost? What regret might you have?

Follow Colin Powell:

Decorated four-star general Colin Powell has a guiding principle he uses in making decisions. You should have no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent of the information you need to make a decision. Wait for more, and you’re likely allowing an opportunity to pass you by. Move forward with less, and you’re being careless.

Speed write 750 words:

If you’re unsure which path to take, sit down with pen and paper or a blank document on your laptop and quickly write 750 words — stream of consciousness without advanced thought — about how you feel about the decision at hand. Usually, down deep, you have far more clarity on a decision than it may seem on the surface. This decision-making strategy is based on a trick writers use when facing writers block, as outlined in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron.

Make it twice:

When you’re unsure about an important decision, make it twice. First, document your initial gut-reaction to the decision at hand as well as your current rationale for it. Then wait a day and make the decision a second time, only in a different physical location (e.g., on your morning walk). Challenge the original decision. If you still land in the same spot, pull the trigger.

Don’t starve:

Existential psychotherapist, Ciaran O’Connor writes in “Coping with Indecision: 7 Deadly Thoughts” on PsychCentral, “A hungry ass walks into a barn. In the barn are two equally large and inviting bales of straw. They are both equally visible and accessible. The ass dies of starvation. As jokes go, it’s dreadful. The ass, known as Buridan’s ass, was conceived in response to the French philosopher’s thoughts on decision-making.”

“One of the pragmatic implications of Buridan’s ass is that when you find yourself caught between equally attractive positions, the worst course of action is to do neither.”

Imagine your ideal legacy:

Do you want to be known by the decisions you courageously made — good and bad — or those you didn’t? You are far more likely to regret inaction versus action, whether that action resulted in the outcome you hoped for or not.

The bottom line is that indecision is a decision. Decisive, forward-thinking action wins the day both during times of crisis and normalcy. Exceptional leaders stand out from the pack by how well they cope with the necessary speed of decision making when times get tough.

As long as COVID-19 is decimating our economy and business outcomes, each week I’ll be sharing the most effective growth strategies, like these, that forward-thinking companies are executing during this crisis. My hope is that you’ll find additional inspiration to advance your vision forward with a full-on strategic offensive, and that includes the sales and marketing front.

We are all in this together. RedRover is deeply committed to Memphis and any business working to support our great city. Let us know if you’d like a hand retooling your sales and marketing strategies in order to ensure growth during and after this crisis. Knowing what to do next can be difficult. There are resources and partners all across our city ready to help. RedRover is here for all Memphians working to save their businesses.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.

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