Commentary

This Too Shall Pass....

I am not a physician, so I have no great insights on the trajectory of the coronavirus disease nor when it will (hopefully), fade away. However, I help to oversee a large, complex organization and see that even while the immediate crisis consumes organizational energy and generates its own inertia, several potential longer term “truths” emerge:

Truth #1. COVID-19 is defining a 'new' operating environment. The COVID-19 spread is a crisis today, to be sure. However, it’s also about to become a fundamental element of our organizational environment over a longer term-at least the next 6-18 months until a vaccine is developed and deployed. Organizations must work to first, manage and survive the crisis now, and then quickly 'normalize' processes to account for COVID as an operating condition, and then refocus on mission accomplishment. This is not easy and requires organizational leaders who can be both flexible and creative while maintaining an ability to operate comfortably under uncertainty and ambiguity. These are traits that can be, must be, developed and reinforced in both leaders and teams.

Truth #2. Our competitors will work to normalize first and then leverage for competitive advantage. Competitors, be they nation-states like Russia or China, or even corporate competitors, are incentivized to try and adapt and “normalize” faster than us to take advantage of emerging opportunities illuminated by crisis. Others, unable to quickly emerge from the crisis management stage will miss these fleeting opportunities to gain leverage or advantage. The “crisis phase” will eventually pass but the new operating conditions which have been created as a result will continue requiring organizations to adapt and evolve. Leaders must encourage and drive their teams to normalize to these changing conditions even when still addressing the early stages of crisis- your competitor is doing that now and sees opportunities on which to capitalize.

Truth #3. Organizations must simultaneously manage the immediate crisis now, and yet dedicate time and staff bandwidth on the longer term challenge. Crisis tends to pull organizational energy toward the immediate- a sort of an organizational immune response. However, to ultimately survive and thrive, organizations must ensure someone, some team, is looking deep. That’s often hard to do when the crisis seems to dominate discussions, meetings, and briefings. Leaders must orient deep and look for silver linings- they may be faint glimmers, but they are there nonetheless.

Despite the immense challenges of today, our organization remains mission ready. To stay ready, leaders at all levels must continue to posture their part of the organization to be stronger, and more resilient even while addressing the crisis of the immediate. During stressful times, people and teams turn to leaders who demonstrate the ability to remain agile and ready to deal with emergent situations; leaders who remain mindful that this too shall pass. What we do today to position, support, and inspire our people and our teams will set the conditions for future success once this does pass. As we adapt to operate in a different environment, one shaped by today’s challenges, a clear-eyed and broader vision will carry us to a better tomorrow. That’s what we aim to deliver.

Army Maj. Gen. Todd B. McCaffrey assumed duties as the Chief of Staff to the Commander, United States Africa Command in July 2018. He is responsible for exercising day-to-day supervision of the U.S. Africa Command staff, management of matters involving the daily operations of a command spanning 53 African countries, and provides counsel and advice to the U.S. Africa Command commander, deputies, and the command senior enlisted leader on all matters affecting the command.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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