They say people who have seen tough times up, close and personal, are the ones who can teach others how to manage a crisis better than those who haven’t faced such times. Personal experiences, the empathy that is needed and the rational thinking that one needs to rely on during tough times, is something that people with experience can pass on, because they know what worked and what did not.
Dmitriy Akulov, tech innovator and entrepreneur, has a great story about how business leaders can persevere through hard times. He lived through war in Eastern Europe and remembers days when he would have to find the strength to tune out the bombings to work on his brand.
In this exclusive interaction with People Matters, Akulov shares some of his learnings from living through a crisis, how he managed to keep the passion for his work alive even during the time of war, and gives suggestions on how business leaders can persevere through hard times.
Akulov is a leading force behind some of the largest names in the tech world including: PerfOps, jsDelivr, and Prospect One. Akulov started jsDelivr, a free- multi-CDN for open course projects, at the age of 16. Today, the platform is one of the largest in the world, serving over 65 billion users on a monthly basis.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
What are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?
I pull a lot of my experience with the conflict in Eastern Europe to help guide me here. I have lived through war, I innovated during a time of war. And this is very similar. People are scared, lives are being lost, people are nervous and somehow they have to perform at work. I try to understand the external stresses and issues people have to face in their everyday life and take that into consideration regarding work. I have to make sure my team is mentally healthy and thriving in order to expect them to perform well for me.
You have lived through war in Eastern Europe and have spoken about days when you would have to find the strength to tune out the bombings to work on your brand. Tell us more about how you managed to keep the passion for your work alive through such tough times.
You need to keep your mind free from bad thoughts. I was basically ignoring and tuning-out the whole thing and focusing on my work.
When you are focused, you can't think about anything else. On the other hand, the war also worked as a huge motivator to change my life as quickly as possible and change it for the better. Which I did.
Are there certain traits that can make leaders more effective in times of crisis? How can business leaders persevere through hard times?
Rationality over emotions is important. Decisions must be made based on data and logic and not as an emotional response. This means making hard decisions that will impact real people but will preserve the company and the rest of the team.
Another important thing is to see the opportunities when everyone else is afraid. Most will miss them but if you keep looking out, you could come out of the crisis a winner.
A majority of the leaders have their own unique leadership style. How challenging is it to break this set mould and remodel leadership behavior in times of such uncertainty?
It is challenging but you must be open to new ideas. Don't assume you are right, and don't assume what has always worked will also work now. Read a lot and try to learn from the mistakes of others.
According to a survey, 93% of high performing organizations believe crisis uncovers talented leaders. In your experience of managing crises, how relatable are these results?
The survival of the fittest never went away and it is definitely true in a corporate setting. Nepotism, unqualified, emotional and unprofessional employees and leaders will be filtered out. Some could take down whole companies with them.
But at the end, as always, only the strongest and most talented will survive. And unfortunately, it will probably include many unethical people as well.
There have been debates surrounding the impact of remote working on productivity for a while, however, the outbreak of COVID-19 has forced the global sphere of work to switch to this working model. Doubt and lack of trust can lead to disharmony among an already distant workforce. What can leaders do to break such stereotypes and foster a culture comprising both trust and high performance?
The worst thing leaders can do in a remote setting is keeping a remote and on-site workforce at the same time. Once that happens, all of the remote workers will automatically feel alienated and start underperforming because they assume it is notifying their good work. Productivity will lower in this case.
Keep 100% of the team remote. Have video calls to see them face-to-face and read their emotions. Give a chance for everyone to speak. And make sure to say who does a good job. In an office setting this might be easy and natural, but in a remote conference, interrupting someone just to say they have done a good job is weird, so most will avoid it all together.
Can you name a leader who you consider an inspiration when it comes to dealing with a crisis?
Bill Gates is definitely the biggest one. Not only did he donate millions, he also invested into multiple companies to speed the development of a vaccine.
While at the same time, not being afraid to advocate for tightening of quarantine measures and distributing cash to people in need.