Leadership, Influence & Coronavirus: will you bring people with you or leave them behind?


As a leader or manager, situations like the Coronavirus outbreak create challenges around business-critical decisions. As a leader or manager taking these challenging decisions, will you bring people with you or will you leave them behind?


More importantly, what will be the longterm impact of your approach in terms of trust, credibility and future influence?

Imagine you are working for a medium-sized company, and you have led a significant product innovation over the last two years.


Six months ago, the company was nominated for and won a national award that recognises your team for your impact on manufacturing productivity. In two-weeks time you and your team are travelling 250 miles to attend a ceremony where you will pick-up the award on behalf of the company. You are attending the ceremony with six members of your family. You have conducted radio and newspaper interviews, and you feel this to be the crowning moment of your career to date.


This morning, you were called into the Managing Director's (MD's) office. She sits you down and explains that the company is accelerating business continuity plans in light of the escalation of the Coronavirus outbreak. The impact is that the company is shutting down any external meetings that are not considered business-critical. The MD then says, "as a result, the team will NOT be going to the award ceremony because of the Coronavirus risk!"

What is your response to being told NOT to do something?

Cognitively, you are battling between logic and emotion. The decision is out of your hands. Not only that, but you may not relate to the risk being discussed or how it relates to your purpose - linked to extrinsic motivation and recognition of status. The decision feels unreasonable.


Perhaps you have engaged your memory store, recalling other times when you have been told not to do something. The memories are not good, and you start to feel tense. You clench and unclench your hands. Emotions surge along with the need to resist the decision. You are ready to stand your ground and fight.

The MD has made a mistake; she took a dominant approach to the decision-making process instead of focusing on how best to influence a positive outcome. In cases such as this, people get left behind when what you really want is to get them on side and bring them with you.


Instead, what happens if the person is engaged and involved in the decision-making process?

John, what I am about to say is going to be difficult because I know how much work you have put into the product and how much you have been looking forward to picking up the award. It might seem that what I am about to say is cold, uncaring and selfish. It could also be that you will feel disappointed, let down or even angry. I want you to know that I am sorry.


It seems the Coronavirus outbreak could significantly impact our ability to operate. If we have to shut down, we could find ourselves in a financial situation where our teams have to accept reduced pay or, in extreme circumstances, no pay. While it could create frustration and disappointment in the short-term, it seems the best decision, which protects the interests of our teams and their families, is to limit all external meetings to those that are business critical. Unfortunately, this decision impacts the award ceremony.


Do you think it is fair to our teams and their families if we fail to act to protect them?


What do you think is the best way forward here?

There is so much at play here that it is not possible to unpick everything in a single blog, but at its heart are three key concepts:


What motivates your decision?
  • Applied Emotional Intelligence

  • Applied Self-Determination Theory

  • Applied Prospect Theory


Applied Emotional Intelligence, which is demonstrated in the Managing Director's ability to articulate John's view of the world.


Applied self-determination theory allows people to build a richer understanding of the environment, amplifying their ability to relate to the decision. Secondly, people are engaged and involved in the decision-making process - you are bringing them with you; think of it as speaking with people instead of at people.


Applied Prospect Theory engages people's fear of potential loss, which creates a stronger response than the satisfaction derived from potential gain.

When faced with the pressure of critical business decisions, will you risk leaving people behind (dominate by speaking at) or will you bring them with you (influence by speaking with)?

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