In Times Like These

A board’s obligation is to ensure that the enterprise they serve is being well managed—and as tempting as it may be, not to co-manage in crisis.

Almost daily I receive well-intended alerts from professional firms offering advice and guidance to boards/board members navigating the COVID 19 crisis. There is a common thread in all, and it reminds me of a seemingly unrelated lesson learned years ago.

In a casual Monday morning conversation, a colleague shared with me his weekend training at Watkins Glen race track. It wasn’t the high speeds he achieved that got my attention but his explanation of how to regain control of a vehicle that sharply swerves at a high speed and begins to shake. Who’d have thought…you don’t brake, you accelerate!

Not long after that, going 70+ MPH on the thruway, a truck ahead of me threw a tire and it came racing and bouncing straight at me. I swerved hard to get out of its path and my car began to shake uncontrollably; remembering the lesson from the racetrack, I didn’t brake; I accelerated and regained control.

COVID 19 is much like that tire. Some enterprises braked when they saw it coming and the shake has since gotten worse. Others accelerated and regained control. Hitting the brakes is intuitive, but times like these require counter intuitive thinking. How fortunate I am to serve with CEOs and their executive teams who did just that! Early on they got ahead of it and haven’t looked back. They didn’t think twice about a paradigm shift; they prioritized employee wellbeing and customer commitments above all else and did so with no apologies.

Each day they reevaluate their action plans—they think logically, decide with compassion and implement with precision. While encouraging input from their boards they don’t delay decisions waiting for consensus; they are prescriptive in the moment. This is not a time for “what do you think we should do” but a time for “this is what we are doing.” They lead!

A board’s obligation is to ensure that the enterprise they serve is being well managed, and as tempting as it may be, it is not to co-manage in crisis. If as board members we are well informed of the enterprise’s challenges and supportive of the actions taken to meet them, best to stay on the sidelines as a resource.

Those who lead likely worry more about others than about themselves. They are first in and last out, virtual in their responsibilities. They provide strength and reassurance to those around them and some think of their role in crisis as their destiny. They are not heroic, they are stoic and they pay a heavy price.

Who do they turn to for strength? Some turn to peers, some to board members and some to advisors. And, many stay centered by connecting to their spiritual roots, a connection worth making for all of us as well—in times like these.

Fred Engelfried
Fred Engelfried is Director/Chair of North Coast Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary Lewis Tree Service, Inc. He has been a member of the board of directors of Lewis for over 20 years, and for 10 years prior to that worked with the company intermittently in various consulting capacities. He also is President of Market Sense Inc., a participative management firm that has served more than 100 regional clients over 35 years.