In these unprecedented times, the role of a leader, in steering his organization and people towards a positive future, has become all the more critical. After all, your people look up to you and the way you manage a crisis would help them connect better with the purpose of the organization and give in their best selves to what they do.
We speak to Erich Gerber, SVP EMEA & APJ, TIBCO as he talks about what has worked for him as a leader in these testing times and how he is looking at enabling his organization and people to adapt to the “new normal” of work.
An experienced senior executive with over 25 years in the information technology industry, Erich Gerber is responsible for TIBCO Software’s business across international markets, which consist of Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Erich has wide experience covering global markets, direct and indirect sales, as well as Infrastructure and BI software. Having led various organisations in senior leadership positions with American- and German-driven company structures, Erich is an adept and adaptable leader with a keen focus on developing global customer relationships and bringing to market timely solutions that deliver value.
With his extensive experience and track record for overachievement, Erich has built teams that have delivered significant growth by fine-tuning business operations and successfully managing profitability.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
What are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?
Unlike some of the related terms such as management principles or management strategies, I personally like the term “leadership”, since it refers to something very practical that you typically don’t learn in school. One of the first lessons that life teaches you when you are being trusted with leading people is to realize that you are rarely needed when the weather is fair. However, when a storm comes up, your people will want to see their leader being determined and strong. So, the most important lesson for me was to be present and communicative.
What is keeping you awake at night?
Over the last two decades of leading international businesses, I have learned how important it is to protect myself against the lack of sleep. No matter how hard something hits you, you can’t confront it if your senses aren’t awake. I am grateful to have the ability to think about something positive when I go to sleep. It usually guides me through the night.
Are there certain traits that can make leaders more effective in times of crisis?
Be responsible! The prime mission of a leader is to protect the welfare of the group and to guide them through the storm. This does not work if you don’t make decisions. People would rather forgive when you make a wrong decision that you try to correct than having a passive attitude in times of crisis. When things are going well, you want to take a backseat and listen, observe, try to understand. When the going gets tough, you need to step up and be forceful.
A majority of the leaders have their own unique leadership style. How challenging is it to break this set mold and remodel leadership behavior in times of such uncertainty?
Flexibility works best for a leader in times of uncertainty. It is in these times that a leader’s ability to adapt to changes is put to the test. The question therefore is not so much about how challenging it is to adapt, but how you will adapt. Collect as much data as you possibly can, analyze it together with your team, pair it with your gut feel, and move on from there.
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?
With a change in perspective, one can find opportunities amidst the most challenging problems. Talented leaders emerge when people do not wallow in defeat but instead struggle to survive no matter how difficult it seems. There’s a light at the end of that proverbial tunnel, but one cannot reach that light if they don’t start moving in that direction. It is true that crisis uncovers talented leaders because the toughest adversities yield the greatest survivors, and we are often surprised by the newfound capabilities of these resilient leaders.
It takes a while before one can switch their perspective and look at crisis as an opportunity. How can leaders guide their teams to accelerate this transition?
It’s the old metaphor of the glass that is half full rather than half empty. Positivity is a force multiplier. Optimism and enthusiasm are contagious – much more than any virus. How are your teams to believe in opportunities if their leader is using verbiage, mimics and body language of pessimism or cynicism? Every crisis has its winners, and they rarely woke up one morning, realizing that they suddenly made great strides. No, the winners are active, determined and positive – always.
In this time of crisis, what has worked for you and what hasn’t?
First things first - stabilizing the situation and making sure, everyone is safe. I’m glad that at TIBCO we acted quick and with the necessary level of caution. Above all else, we listen to data, and we identify our decisions based on what data science is telling us. Next, if you don’t already have one, activate Plan B. Keep a clear mind and make your own situational analysis. In today’s information landscape, it is easy to lose sight or to get distracted. Forwarding a report is done quickly. Ask yourself if you trust the source before you share it with your network.
What is your immediate focus area? How are you managing business continuity and people strategy simultaneously?
The focus is always on our people and our customers. Remote management can only be a temporary solution. The “new normal”, as it is often indoctrinated, won’t stand the test of time. One important aspect influencing it would be the need for human connection, as it is socializing. This is why my other focus is to do whatever possible and responsible to get people back into the office and meet with our customers face-to-face. There are no exact ways to ensure right decisions at all times, but a leader can be guided with real-time data that he/she can trust to confidently predict business outcomes. This helps us make faster and smarter decisions. I can personally live with a situation where I’d wish we hadn’t pursued an opportunity, rather than wishing we had.
Can you name a leader who you consider an inspiration when it comes to dealing with a crisis?
Many come to mind, but few have excelled in terms of resilience and determination as much as Nelson Mandela.