Leadership factory: How wartime shapes business leaders

  (photo credit: Artelogic)
(photo credit: Artelogic)

In times of crisis, strong leadership is essential for business survival. At The wartime or COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed as a laboratory for testing proper managerial solutions. It is the time when leaders must make quick decisions, take risks, and inspire their teams to face challenges head-on. So what does it take to be a leadership-style business, and how does it work in times of crisis?

Decision-Making Rules for leaders in crisis situations

Imagine your house is engulfed in flames; you must act quickly, making decisions under immense pressure. With mere seconds to decide what to do and how to act, a rapid sequence of thought is required.

Leaders in crisis situations experience the same urgency; they must be able to make quick and decisive decisions, even if they are scared or overwhelmed. So how can this be achieved?

Andriy Rozhdestvenskyi, the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership at the Ukrainian Catholic University, was once a profiler and analyst in Israel’s security service. There, he specialized in counter-terrorism matters, such as special communications and negotiations. He believes the military has valuable lessons to teach us about decision-making in crisis situations. According to him, three simple military rules can be applied to the business world during wartime.

1. Any decision is better than no decision at all.

2. Not making a decision is also a decision.

3. If you want to make the right decision, make any decision and make it the right one.

While these rules aren't always the best approach when you have access to analytics and data, they can be useful in critical situations where time is of the essence and intuition is vital. Let's look at warfare for example - it takes place within a broader context of geopolitical, economic, and social events much like the business world. Warfare is characterized by constant stress and upheaval, making it a time during which plans and communication can break down while instructions may not be followed. Information can also be misunderstood when contingencies arise and mistakes are made. However, amidst all that chaos there lies opportunity.

The intuition of leader vs. backup plan: what works better?

Depending on the situation, leaders can utilize both intuition and backup plans as effective strategies. When making quick decisions or when resources are limited, intuition can prove valuable. On the other hand, backup plans are more effective in scenarios that are uncertain or pose a high degree of risk. Striking a balance between the two is imperative to prevent missed opportunities or suboptimal outcomes.

Tural Mamedov, CEO of Artelogic, a Software Development company, found himself facing such a challenge on February 24, 2022, when the war broke out in Ukraine. As a software development company, Artelogic relied heavily on international clients, and the looming threat of war presented a significant risk to the company's operations. Tural had to act fast to ensure that the business would continue to run smoothly during this difficult time.

"It was hard to believe, so I immediately went to check the news and was unfortunate to realize the new reality we all woke up in. As the very first step, I called all our senior managers asking them to arrive at the office within an hour and enact our emergency response plan.", - recalls Tural Mamedov, CEO at Artelogic, about the initial reactions when he first heard about the outbreak of full-scale war in Ukraine.

One of the key decisions that Tural and Artelogic's leadership team made was to create a Business Continuity Plan and ensure uninterruptible communication within the team. The situation was chaotic and uncertain, but with a level head, each member quickly took on specific tasks that would ensure their employee's safety and project continuity. 

“Without a strategy and action plan, it's like handing over your weapon to an enemy or competitor. Everyone on the team must understand the strategy in order to work together effectively. The best teams are made up of people who demonstrate leadership qualities, regardless of their position within the organization. When everyone understands the leader's strategic intent, it helps build a strong and loyal team that can be flexible in times of crisis or change. A strategy based on shared values can be a key competitive advantage, but it's important to remember that values reside in people, not just corporate structures”, - said Andriy Rozhdestvenskyi, an expert in leadership in Ukraine.

Leadership-style business: how does it work in times of crisis? 

To be a leadership-style business, it's worth exploring the different types of management. These include autocratic, bureaucratic, and democratic, to name a few. Each style has unique characteristics and can have a significant impact on a business' success.

Instead of relying solely on a few top executives to make all the decisions, a leadership-style business empowers individuals at all levels of the organization to use their skills, knowledge, and expertise to contribute to the solution. In a leadership-style business, leaders are seen as coaches and mentors rather than bosses. They guide and support their team, helping them develop their skills and reach their full potential. Doing so creates a culture of trust and loyalty, which can be invaluable in times of crisis.

It sounds great! But how to achieve it? Definitely, every individual has their own temperament, values, and motivation. Even the best manager can hardly know how each team member can undergo challenging circumstances.

"As a manager, the crisis can leave you with a broken team, demotivated members, and tasks that have failed, or it can give you something much more powerful: a squad of superhumans who are ready to take down any obstacle in their way," explains Oleksandr Trofimov, Chief Technology Officer at Artelogic.

While it is impossible to eliminate the risks of team dysfunction in a crisis entirely, managers can develop prerequisites that would help foster a positive team spirit when crises arise.

After years of managing a variety of engineering teams, including the past year in wartime circumstances, Oleksandr Trofimov has identified three basic rules for outstanding leadership:

  • Culture of feedback. A leader must provide feedback constantly and (is important!) - timely. 
  • Culture of Communication: Every manager claims to be open and receptive to feedback. However, it can be difficult for team members to know if this is true. Therefore, it's essential to make sure that communication flows effectively throughout the team, including when it happens and what format it takes.
  • Culture of Support and Mentorship: An adaptive, supportive, and mentoring culture is fundamental for success. Failure is inevitable, but it can provide valuable learning opportunities to grow as individuals and as a team. At the core of such a culture should be a safe space where individuals have access to support, guidance, and mentorship, and are empowered to embrace failure, learn from their mistakes, and achieve more together.

Leaders and their fears: how to exude confidence being scared?

Leaders must be able to exude confidence even when they are scared. Fear is a natural human response, but leaders must overcome their fears and lead by example. They need to inspire and motivate their teams, showing them that they are all in this together and that they will emerge stronger on the other side. 

Oleksandr Trofimov, recalls his first thought and decision when the war started were simple yet powerful: "You are alive; you should fight; you should do something; you should move forward." With this mindset, Trofimov was able to take action and lead his team through difficult times.

"Only after February 24, 2022, did I truly understand the full meaning of 'what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger,'” said Oleksandr Trofimov, reflecting on the lesson he learned from the wartime experience.

At Artelogic, the corporate culture played a vital role in weathering the storm of war without fear. During the first two weeks of the war, Artelogic's sales team demonstrated an inspiring act of social responsibility by reaching out to over four hundred contacts to encourage clients and prospects to donate to the Ukrainian Army instead of selling Artelogic services. This selfless act of kindness showcases the team's commitment to their country and values.

"That was a mentality that engenders trust," said Dima Reutskyi, Director of Strategic Business Development. "Clients and partners saw our courage and empathy, so almost all reacted favorably to our proposals. If you genuinely believe in the values you preach, you have the power to inspire others."

Artelogic's sales team serves as a shining example of how businesses can prioritize social responsibility and contribute to their community during difficult times without fear.

A long-established leadership style made the difference. Adversity is inevitable, and a leadership style can’t always prevent it, but it can shorten the period of uncertainty and transform failure into opportunity. During challenging times, companies have an opportunity to emerge stronger and more resilient.

If you're looking for ways to be more resilient during times of stress, here are seven tips from the leadership expert Andriy Rozhdestvenskyi, the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership at the Ukrainian Catholic University, to consider:

  1. Clearly defined values can help you stay focused even when things get tough, so take the time to establish them. Andriy Rozhdestvenskyi emphasizes the importance of personal values and suggests that personal resilience consists of three key elements: a sense of meaning, constant action with hope, and wise and positive thinking. He also emphasizes the need to monitor your physical and mental well-being.
  2. Be mindful of your own well-being and seek out tools that can help you replenish your resources, such as rest, new experiences, and exercise.
  3. Remember that everyone has different levels of resilience, so be mindful of your colleagues' and team members' limitations and avoid putting undue pressure on them.
  4. Creating a diverse environment with a mix of experiences and shared values can boost collective resilience.
  5. Strategic planning and identifying potential opportunities and threats through SWOT analysis can help you prepare for and avoid difficulties.
  6. Be honest about potential dangers and risks, but choose your words carefully and inform others in advance. This can help everyone be better prepared to deal with challenges.
  7. Plan ahead for emergency situations and develop a clear action plan for yourself and your team.

War poses unique challenges to leaders, testing and cultivating their skills. Artelogic, a Ukrainian software development company, faced these challenges with exceptional leadership qualities. Despite the country being at war, the company's management responded to clients' concerns and warnings effectively and efficiently, turning some into dedicated supporters of the Ukrainian Army. Through resilience, adaptability, and social responsibility, leaders can inspire employees and foster trust with clients for the greater good.

This article was written in cooperation with AMRYTT MEDIA