Leadership in the time of pandemic

Inspired by former US military strategist John Boyd’s ‘OODA Loop’, the core concept of leadership in times of crisis is to cultivate four main actions - Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

Leadership in the time of pandemic

Thursday May 07, 2020,

5 min Read

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only presented itself as a humanitarian health crisis of the highest magnitude, it is also showing steady signs of completely restructuring international economy and markets in the times to come. Leaders in the position of power must adapt - and more importantly - improvise to help stay afloat during this distressing lockdown, as well as to prosper in the aftermath.


In a crisis like this, it has become obvious that business leaders must harness solutions to help minimise short-term damage. What is even more critical is the post-pandemic period - what will be the new normal in the world of tomorrow? It is as essential as ever to carry out the basic business protocols we are all reading about, nevertheless, now is also the time to evaluate how the present scenario can be a catalyst for positive change.

With all that I read, discussed with many stalwarts of our industry, serial entrepreneurs, CEOs and CMOs of global brands, I found very well summarised in the Nerve Centre Design model - as explained in a report released by McKinsey & Company. It is a perfect depiction of the steps needed to devise positive business strategies and stimulate innovation. Inspired by former US military strategist John Boyd’s ‘OODA Loop’, the core concept of this design is to cultivate four main actions amongst yourself as a leader, as well as amongst your workforce - Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.


I resonate with the fact that observation and deep-analysis are driving factors behind business decisions and activities. With innovative remote-working solutions now the norm, evaluating productivity and output of individuals and estimating whether these evolved working habits are actually triggering positive results or not was my primary motive.

Observation was not necessarily limited to the internal activities and performance of my organisation. The macro environment of many industries had clearly evolved, with the new-age business norms yet to take a definite shape along with increased ambiguity and reduced transparency. Studying the effect of the pandemic on industries and on the economy as a whole, specifically analysing these new-age macro norms in my industry was a must at this stage.

The newfound micro and macro environments led me to analyse the following: Keeping the business afloat, the possibility of exploring new avenues for our service offerings, and evaluating elements of the current situation that can be adapted in the long run.


As I see it, this phase was about adaptation and assimilation after observation. Reinventing some of our core business processes and models was overwhelming at first - across all levels of the organisation. The observation stage was where I had to identify these gaps while this phase was all about measuring steps towards bridging these gaps.

Just like the first phase, orientation extended beyond the internal activities of my organisation. It is inevitable that economic changes will leave marks on all businesses. What I could do was identify steps to minimise the negative impact coming from these changes: further familiarising myself with industry norms during the pandemic, outlining how to improve the new internal functions and processes, and designing the steps needed to explore/approach new business opportunities.


Having collated information and oriented myself, I found myself in a position where I could make an informed decision. The previous two steps indeed generated a plethora of ideas or action plans, so this was the stage where the most viable options must be identified or pin-pointed. I would even describe this as the ‘hypothesis’ stage. This means that my decisions should now be tested and their flaws, if any, identified.

This stage again transcended both the internal and external environments of my organisation. For example, I could have decided to test a new HR software which was aimed to ease the functions of the HR team, or I implemented daily task/log processes to help identify and optimise the bandwidth of different teams. Similarly, from an external point of view, new product/service offerings were finalised with the curation of pitches or marketing strategies developed by teams.


While the Nerve Centre Design Thinking Model is technically a decision-making model, the final stage of the OODA loop is all about action. The ability to act upon calculated and well-thought through decisions is a serious advantage for me. Also known as the implementation phase, this is when I need to experiment and see the output and feasibility of my planning.

The final stage of the loop which I find myself in currently will answer the following: were my observations apt?, did I take the right steps to adapt to, or ‘orient’ myself with such an unprecedented crisis?, are these evolved business processes and functions actually viable solutions in the long run?

This pandemic will likely give way to an urge to eliminate some factors that helped cement coronavirus as a global challenge. Governments are likely to feel vitalised and supported by their citizens to take a more active role in shaping economic activity.

Business leaders across industries have to foresee these popularly supported changes to policies and regulations as we as a society seek to avoid and mitigate a future health crisis of the kind unfolding in front of us at this very moment. The Nerve Centre Design can help we leaders prepare for the arrival of a ‘new normal’ which is looking to evolve more and more with each passing day.

Edited by Javed Gaihlot

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)