Harness the Current

Access Continuum’s Leadership Model for leading through novel unknowns

Continuum Consulting Services LLC

When COVID-19 hit, overnight our consulting business contracts dropped 50 percent. We were shaken. It was hard to concentrate, get our bearings, and stay focused on the next steps and solutions. We have been in business for over 25 years, and we knew we were in uncharted territory, like our clients.

After a few sleepless nights and lots of internal conversations, we regrouped. We realized we needed to understand the different phases we would cycle through and then adapt and innovate along the way if we were to survive. So we set to work.

We Started With What We Knew

Drawing on our experience with leaders and organizations over the past decades, and referring to the myriad disaster relief models available, we began to map the journey. We knew that journey could last months, or years. We also knew that by the time this was over, all of the plans we made prior to shelter-at-home orders would likely be invalid, given the world that awaited us on the other side of this crisis.

But something else happened. As we defined the phases, we were shocked to see how understanding where we were on the journey, and where things were probably heading, eased our anxiety. It also enabled us to get clear about our focus, decisions, and next steps.

We Asked Leaders for Input

Once we had the first draft of what we now called our “COVID Leadership Model,” we began to share it with executive clients and colleagues. They resonated. They were also relieved to see that what they were feeling, and where they were organizationally and as leaders, was “normal.”

For instance, when clients reviewed the first phase, “Oh Sh#t!” the response was, “Yes! That is exactly what is happening and where we are.” As we walked our clients through the model, they had the same experience we had when we applied it to our business. There was an affirmation. There was clarity about the path forward. Ideas began to flow. Calm about the next steps—and what we face collectively—emerged.

We Now Have a Map…and a Model

During a client leadership team meeting I recently facilitated, we leveraged the model as a way for leaders to check in regarding their COVID journey. Based on the phase descriptions, they each identified where their departments were along the continuum and began to name challenges that didn’t exist even a month ago. They shared their best practices with one another for addressing current issues, and using the model, projected ahead to anticipate issues they could just barely make out on the horizon, if they squinted.

That conversation allowed us to offer resources and strategies to address specific current and future needs. One example surprised me: despite the disruptions of the pandemic, the company found itself in a growth spurt that required onboarding a rush of new team members. We were able to help them re-design their current intake process to quickly integrate new hires into the virtual environments and dispersed teams that COVID necessitates for now. 

Yes, it is a difficult time. But it’s also an exciting time, when new maps, models, and ways of leading are emerging that challenge accepted organizational assumptions. Each of us has a role to play: to share what we learn, and the best practices that result, to ensure our collective success.

With that spirit of intention:

  • You can see the COVID Leadership Model and its phases here.
  • You can understand how to apply the model to your organization by signing up for a complimentary coaching session here.
  • You can cultivate four qualities that create compassionate leadership during times of crisis, outlined in this article by McKinsey & Co.

Wendy B. White is a co-founder and partner for Continuum Consulting Services, LLC.