We have continued to work with companies across the country in the midst of the pandemic, and we have discovered a clear pattern: organizations are taking one of two distinct paths.  These paths are so distinct that it is obvious within just one meeting which path is being taken by that particular organization.


Some leaders have circled the wagons, made cuts, and are hoping that things get back to normal as soon as possible so that they don’t have to make additional difficult decisions.  Their employees are feeling the strain but they are doing additional work, being more mindful of resources, and also hoping things return to normal soon.  The organization is working to survive.  We call these leaders The Settlers.  

Surviving during tough times is important.  And Settler Leaders have figured out how to survive day-to-day.  Here are some common traits to identify Settler Leaders:

A hope that the world will return to normal as soon as possible

So, we all do this to some extent.  No one loves being put in unpredictable situations. But Settler Leaders have trouble facing the fear and uncertainty of the situation.  You will often hear them say, “When this is all over we will be able to XYZ…” or “Let’s just hope we don’t lose more clients because of all of this”.  These things show that a Settler Leader is not thinking about the longer term future, and is just focused on life returning back to the way it was.  

A focus on the here and now

Settler Leaders are focused on the tasks or fires in front of them.  They are in a constant state of busy to ensure the day-to-day tasks are being taken care of.  They often times will work on the urgent things and forget to take a step back to think about or work on the important things.  

A lack of delegation and communication

Settler Leaders have decided to take on things themselves to ensure they are done the right way in these uncertain times.  And since they are busy working on tasks and putting out fires, they often are not communicating with their staff, coworkers, or customers.  


Some leaders are using this as a time to restructure, find new products / services, and to build a stronger culture.  The leaders are engaging staff and their customers to innovate and find ways to take advantage of the disruption. The organization is working to come out of this better than they went in. We call these leaders The Pioneers. 

You might think that Settlers or Pioneers are determined by the industry that each organization is in, but this isn’t what we are seeing.  We are seeing that these two types of leaders emerge from all different industries, financial situations, and size of organization.  One organization we work with lost 90% of their revenue early in the crisis, but they have have committed to being Pioneers and are prepared for growth.  Another organization we work with has seen a short-term spike in business, but is clearly short term, they are constantly putting out fires, and they are letting the crisis happen to them. 

It is obvious that we all want to be the Pioneer type of leader.   But if you are being honest with yourself, you might find that you are currently a Settler.  Being a Settler is easier: you can successfully put out fires and hope that the world goes back to normal soon enough. But being a Settler isn’t the path to a quick recovery.  Being a Settler isn’t the path that will engage your team to innovate and accelerate out of the crisis at hand.  So how do you get past the fear and uncertainty and move to find ways to take advantage of the disruption? How do you become a Pioneer? 

Face the Fear

Pioneers have confronted the ugly possibilities brought about by this crisis.  They asked the tough questions out loud and starred at the potential answers.  Pioneers send more time looking at all the what-ifs than the Settlers do.  What would we do if our revenue dropped 10%?  What do we do if our cash reserves drop to critical levels?  What is our plan if social distancing guidelines remain in place for another year?  

These are questions that keep leaders up at night.  All leaders are thinking about these things, but Pioneer leaders have worked through these possibilities.  They conducted some form of contingency planning to protect their organization.  They have a plan if the impact on their organization is sustained or becomes worse.  There is a power in knowing what will happen if things get worse, and having milestones to implement along the way.  Confronting the fear and building a plan to face unknowns is the first step to being able to move past the crisis. 

You can find a template to walk you through this process here

Get Your Financial House In Order

If it wasn’t already, a Pioneer needs clear financials.  Pioneer leaders will look at those financials to make decisions about the future.  What costs are no longer necessary? Are there recurring services that can be eliminated? What debts can be paid off or deferred? What happens if 10% of income is lost? 20%? More? 

Having a clean set of financial documents gives you the power to make a solid plan. Create a list of financial milestones and a plan should each milestone be hit.  Determine what will happen if you lose 20% of your revenue.  Then 30%.  Some of the milestones will require layoffs and even a shut down in some services to customers.  Adversely, a Pioneer doesn’t only think about the bad! What would you do if you could pay down debt and make your cashflow better? What would you do if your revenue increased? The milestones are hard to look at and think about, but it is all part of being a Pioneer leader.  Having thought through what happens and when it happens means you are ready for whatever comes your way.  

Need help figuring out how to get good financials that tell the accurate story of your business? We recommend starting with a good chart of accounts. Contact us (we won’t charge you, don’t be scared to ask for help). We can help.

Leverage Your Team and Your Social Capital to Execute Quickly 

We have heard the phrase “we are all in this together” a lot lately.  But have you shared your grief or worry with others? Probably not to the extent that we have seen Pioneer leaders.  Pioneers build the plan and share that plan with the people around them.  Once everyone is on the same page, understands what is at stake, and able to rally around a common cause – that is where real progress happens. 

We have seen some Pioneers conduct focus groups or launch surveys to customers to help them determine the companies biggest strengths and best value.  We have seen Pioneers team up with other organizations to create new products or services. The Pioneers are innovating and they are also executing quickly.  They hear what others are saying and seek to capitalize on that value and moment. 

Pioneers also pull together a team of people to help them execute.  Effective leaders know that they can’t do it all by themselves.  Pulling together a cross functional team of people that meet regularly to vet and launch projects is vital.  This team will help a leader stay focused on the big picture while letting others execute each project. 

Pioneer leaders have also found that by mobilizing their team to execute on these opportunities they have, inadvertently, boosted employee morale through a difficult time. 

Take Advantage of the Change Mindset

Disruption is the lubricant of change.  Right now, the whole world is disrupted which makes change a bit easier to stomach for everyone.  Disruptions changes habits and and is an opportunity to build new habits and create a high performing team.  A Pioneer leader is looking to innovate and change and they know that now is the time to get the team to help them do that! 

Just because you might be a Settler right now, doesn’t mean you can’t course correct.  And even Pioneers have Settler days. Face the fear, build the plan, share the plan, set the tone, and leverage this opportunity to become better than ever!

Be a Pioneer.