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Turns out that successful leaders and buffalo have a lot in common.

Alan Sobel, managing partner at SobelCo, points to the Cherokee adage about the different ways cows and buffalo respond to storms to underscore his point about effective leadership in tumultuous times like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cows sense an approaching storm and make a futile attempt to outrun it, which only prolongs their torment, Sobel said. Buffalo, however, charge directly toward the storm because they instinctively know that facing it head on will enable them to come out on the other side sooner.

“So I ask the question: Are you a cow that runs away from the storm or a buffalo that runs toward it?” Sobel asked viewers during an NJBIA webinar on Monday.

“Anytime there’s been a crisis, anytime there’s been a pandemic, civilization and society has worked its way through it,” Sobel said, adding that in his view it was only a matter of time before a COVID-19 vaccine would be available and end the current public health and economic crisis.

“We don’t know when that is coming, but we certainly will do a much better job being prepared if we run toward it as opposed to running away from it,” Sobel said. “Running away from it is only going to make it longer and harder to deal with it.”

Sobel said leaders who “run towards their problems” and confront a crisis need to concentrate on four fundamentals:  communication, motivation, strategy, and decision-making.

Communication. In any crisis, but especially during COVID-19, communicating with employees, customers, vendors, supply chain and the community where your business operates is key. “The absence of communication creates dead space – a void that gets filled with whatever people are thinking,” he said. And what people imagine may not be accurate or reflect the company’s goals.

“No matter how much you communicate, you could communicate more,” Sobel said. “Be concise, be correct and be honest.”

Motivation.  The best way to motivate people, especially in a crisis, is by being honest, empathetic and compassionate. “Showing empathy and compassion is incredibly motivating to people,” Sobel said. Allow your team leaders to be motivational as well, and remember that your company’s core mission is the same as it was before the pandemic hit – only the landscape in which you operate has changed, Sobel said.

Strategize. Analyze your company’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities and threats the business faces in order to prepare for the recovery that will come, Sobel said. For example, decide whether employees will continue working remotely in the future and prepare for marketplace changes that will impact your business. “Now is the perfect time to assess how you are going to be prepared post-pandemic,” Sobel said.

Decision-Making. A well thought out business decision is often better than a hasty one, Sobel said. Remember to consider the counterintuitive nature of things in the decision-making process as well. “We all have blinders on sometimes and we all come to decisions based on our own biases. We want to cut to the answer. But if we take a few minutes to consider the counterintuitive result, you potentially could come up with a better solution in the first place,” Sobel said.

Most importantly, engage with stakeholders, including customers, suppliers and employees, to help you make the right decisions for your business, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, Sobel said. “Making decisions for your business in a vacuum can no longer work in my opinion,” he said.

“We are in very dangerous times, not only from a health perspective, but from a business perspective as well,” Sobel said. “So be the buffalo. Be the leader who runs towards the storm, not away from it. Be the leader who run toward problems, and be the difference between success and failure.”

To view the entire webinar, go here.