Leadership, Communication and Planning

Dr. Bob Milligan

Dr. Bob Milligan

One of my first short articles as this crisis slammed into us was about decision-making challenges in the Grief/Loss Cycle. Today, we must expand on that discussion. Here are my observations on each of the first three first phases of the grief/loss cycle:

Shock and denial. Symptoms include avoidance, confusion, fear, numbness, and blame. Certainly no one is denying that COVID-19 is real. I do, however, believe that most of us are in denial about the potential severity of the crisis and avoiding looking at worst case outcomes. I recommend that everyone of you realistically identify the worst case or nearly worst case scenario and then develop a contingency plan. I truly hope you do not have to implement that plan, but I predict your overall decision making will be better by understanding more of the potential implications. An example: Here is the Twin Cities, the Guthrie, the premier theater in

Minneapolis just announced they are not starting the 20-21 season until March 2021. I suspect, based on the article, that they did such a contingency plan and realized they were more likely to survive with this plan rather than continuing to invest in productions that may or are likely to be cancelled.

Anger. Symptoms include frustration, anxiety, embarrassment, and shame. I think we are seeing this over and over again. You need to assess your own emotions and be certain that they do not result in destructive behaviors toward family, friends, employees (also on social media). Look for these emotions in your employees and others. Be proactive in discussing these emotions and take action to assist the employees or others. You need to do what you can to help them avoid destructive behaviors toward you, colleagues, or others. Whenever you see a member of your workforce that causes you to think “this is not like _____, you likely need to act. You also cannot allow your employees to become fatigued  or “burnt out” by working long hours.  Fortunately, for most the planting season is going well which will reduce the problem.

Depression and detachment. Symptoms include overwhelmed, blahs, lack of energy, helplessness. Probably almost all of us are here to some degree. Like in the stages above, recognition that these feelings are normal is crucial. Two big implications…

  1. In addition to recognition, you need to identify mechanisms to pull yourself out of the funk and regain focus. You need to find ways to avoid thinking about doomsday outcomes (other than during the above suggested contingency plan) and to focus on identifying opportunities. For me, my daily walk is a source of rejuvenation.
  2. Now for the bad news. I know this is the time of year you love. You can get away from this office/planning shit and go out and plant, spray, etc. Sorry!  Not this year. Your priority right now must be planning.I am suggesting that leaders everywhere need to be spending two to three times as much time planning. The time requirement comes both from the uncertainty and complexity of the situations and from the need to collaborate with others due to this uncertainty and to your receded decision- making capacity.

Again, I suggest every business needs virtual communication capacity to share list ideas, plans and financials and to modify draft proposals.

Full steam ahead and stay safe,

“Change is disturbing when it is done to us, exhilarating when it is done by us.”

~ Rosabeth Kanter, Harvard Business School

Editor’s note: Robert A. Milligan, PhD, is Senior Consultant, Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. He may be reached at office: 651 647-0495; Cell: 651 343-6065; and email   rmilligan@trsmith.com


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