Understanding Leadership during a crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic is changing everything. It means we have to adapt to a new way of working and a new way of delivering service. Core to this is robust leadership, which itself is changing in the midst of the pandemic. We consult some of the FSN20 to find out what they are doing to pivot in these unprecedented times.


As we face up to the ongoing realities of the Covid-19 crisis the importance of strong leadership is more important than ever before. So we asked members of the current crop of #FSN20 members, who have all been selected for this exclusive list precisely because of the leadership qualities that they have shown in their respective companies and industries what good leadership means to them.


Christo Roux, Director, Field and Workshop Services, Outotec


“Lockdown, social distancing, restricted travel, no site access, these are all terms that were not part of everyday field service operations until recently. Now due to the Covid-19 pandemic they seem to be all one hears. It is most certainly unprecedented times that we are living in and this requires unprecedented leadership too. During this ‘forced downtime’ it is important that our technicians remain safe (at home if required) and engaged.


For our field service technicians who are normally on the road or at a service site, to be confined to one place is an extra challenge. For this reason, we need to ensure that we maintain moral and engage and challenge the technicians in different ways. (regular online meetings, E-learning opportunities, remote support activities to mention a few). In doing so we can ensure that that as we emerge from this pandemic, we are ready for the task ahead.


As the restrictions are lifted and some form of normality returns to our industry, managers will also need to be especially mindful of the team’s workload, as there will be a sense of ‘catch-up’ with many of our customers, along with the issues that a start-up after an extended downtime will bring.


The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed our normal way of working in Field Service, and the effects of this will be felt for a long time, but in the short to medium term Field Service managers need to ensure that they have a clear exit strategy that defines how they will get back to full operation, how they prioritize the workload and look after the wellbeing of their teams.”


Andrea Gombac, Service Innovation Director, Ricoh Italy


“The traits of leadership that I find the most interesting and significant during these times of accelerated change are three in particular: emotional intelligence, servant leadership and authentic leadership.


Among these the real difference is made by servant leadership, which is the ability to truly serve the team and the organisation as a leader to develop and thrive in reaching the business goals and ultimately the purpose that drives an enterprise.


There are two dimensions to leading in a rapidly changing and completely unexpected and unknown environment like the one we are currently experiencing. There’s an emergency element of managing the disruption and securing the health of our people and the service we provide to customers who rely on us to continue their operations. At the same time there’s an opportunity to jump forward in time to design the future status of our business and start preparing for change defining a new purpose that will transform our work lives and our value propositions.


Personally, I see a shift from traditional supply chains to collaborative ecosystems and platforms that will affect the way business is done moving more and more to digital and to leveraging technology as an enabler.



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This evolution will also affect the way leaders drive change. Uncertainty will be more and more a companion of our businesses and therefore also our methods for change will need to embrace customer-centric views based on needs and outcomes versus traditional transactions a be able to quickly adapt and pivot if necessary.


Being able to implement agility and corporate entrepreneurship initiatives will be key in innovating the way business and services are delivered to the market.”


Cheryl-Anne Sanderson, Regional Director, Churchill Services


“It’s being able to adapt to unprecedented times and be aware that each day will be different; be prepared to adapt and change your priorities depending on what is happening on the ground, ie new H&S rules, new guidelines for social distancing, understanding that these are circumstances which potentially you won’t be able to fully control.


However, the key aspect to all of this is communication. Making sure you give a clear leadership stance on what is happening, what is the business position, where we are and where we are moving too; along with a clear set of instructions on what you need from them.


Personally, I send a daily message to my team both at the start and at the end of the day, I try and set the scene but also highlight to them that we are not superheroes but ultimately in these trying times we are doing an amazing job. If something has not gone to plan, then we openly discuss the matter.


There is no right or wrong answer in these circumstances. Ultimately the aim of the game is to keep our people safe, support the NHS and all key front-line staff which includes including the unsung heroes of the FM and Field Service world.


The best style is to be natural and be considerate, it’s about being open and honest including us leaders.


If you were to ask me to sum it up:


  • Communicate like you’ve never communicated before, both informal and formal be prepared to adapt to each scenario;
  • Be Authentic – Be the best version of you;
  • Manage yourself – This will help you cascade the right message and help others manage their time wisely;
  • Leverage your team;
  • Educate yourself and your people with the latest updates (This might mean some night -time reading) but understand what the circumstances mean for you and your people and the wider business.


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Steve Zannos, Senior Director, Service Delivery, Electrolux


We are truly in unprecedented times. Not only is there the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Leaders and their Teams are in isolation. Although I don’t think the effective Leaders of today need to develop new skills, I think these two factors have clearly changed the priorities of Leadership.


Many of us in the Field Service community still have Technicians / Engineers out on the front lines running essential service calls. These include repairs on equipment like medical devices (to help ensure the safety of our Healthcare Professionals and tend for the needs of the sick) and major appliances (to ensure that people staying at home can store food safely and clean clothes and towels), plus many other products.


With our employees still out in the public and at risk, we must be bold in our commitment to their health and safety, as well as to that of our customers. We must make hard decisions to limit calls and say no to customers for services that are not critical to the functions of the products we are supporting. We will have to be aggressive and diligent in staying ahead of the latest PPE and local requirements to protect our Teams and customers. There is too much at stake to be weak and indecisive.


With almost everyone working within shelter in place or stay at home orders from State and Local Government, it is critical that we step up our communication efforts. Our employees are concerned for their safety and many are not used to working outside of the office environment.

They will feel disconnected and will want to know that their employer still cares about them and the work they are doing. Having more frequent communications is critical. Utilize video conferencing whenever possible to get that human connection, but don’t forget to have broader national or regional calls to get all your Team together (#alonetogether).

This has not only been a great way for corporate communicate, but it has been great for the Technicians to share best practices (i.e. you can find gloves at the auto parts store). These are not new skills; we have always been focused on safety and communication. But in the current environment, these have jumped up the priority list and are critical to the success of today’s Leader.


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Daniel Kingham, Predictive Maintenance & Intelligence Director, Elekta


Compassion and patience are two key traits I think are very important in this current climate. With such varying experiences of employees and customers around the world it is hard to retain the business as usual hat or expectations. While many of us in service are continuing to adapt and look after the customers and users of our products its important not to forget the frustrations and pressures are very different to ‘normal’ life.


People not allowed to leave their homes, those without outdoor spaces, children being home schooled, sick relatives, living alone, etc all add to these pressures and take different tolls on different people.


While it is true some people will have more time on their hands and this may be hard to fill, others have very limited time. The support and balance of each other is what makes a great team and a great place to work. Leaders need to lead by example more so now than ever. 


Digby Wilson, Regional Field-Principal, Field Service Delivery South East Australia and Intl Delivery, Global Business Services, Telstra


COVID19 felt like it crept up on us, slowly engulfing the world, locking down businesses, depressing markets and claiming lives. Millions have lost jobs and many more millions are fearful of what it means short term and long term. In the meantime, leaders are pondering what this means to their families, their businesses, and the people they lead. In this time there are number of traits worth keeping in focus as a leader.


Read the landscape


Make no mistake, your business and the organisation will need to change. There are very few businesses not impacted so change will be needed tactically and strategically.


During this event, people will be at you: wanting information, wanting directions, wanting decisions and wanting support. You will be hopeless if you cannot prioritise and delegate and you cannot do that without information. So go get it.


Cash flow (or credit) is still important so before anything, modelling and forecasting needs to be done so you have a baseline of best case and worse case. Knowing the impact and modelling gives you the flexibility, limitations, and priorities for the team. The knowledge enables decisions and enables you to communicate hope through the lens of change.


Communicate to the organisation

Communicate, communicate, communicate.


With doubt and confusion people look for information. Information can only be processed with context. Reeling off stats doesn’t help – nor does watching countless hours of the news – however, explaining what is happening and the why a decision is happening helps understanding.


Your people will be sucking up information from a multitude of sources so be careful not get dragged into the rabbit warren of misinformation from unreliable sources.

People will want to know what the organisation is doing strategically, tactically, locally and will want to know about their own position. Your people will want to know what the enior decision makers are thinking and will want to hear from you.


You impact their lives. For example: I now run three 15-minute ‘All-in Leaders Calls’ a week to keep the team abreast of what is happening in the country, in the company and locally.

Minutes are kept and the conversation recorded so leaders can cascade messages to front line staff. We have also commenced videos from myself to all staff for consistency.




Change what people do. Some functions will be useless creating up stream impacts and you may have to re-purpose roles to what is critical. In some cases, it’s a case of ‘all hands’ and people will need to do what is foreign to keep jobs and customers.


In times of crisis people do want to help. For example, we have recently moved technicians from front line to BOH and FOH as offshore has been significantly impacted. They are also supported for their learning, and from their leader.

Many will have to work from home but many won’t. For example, our business is an essential service and we require technicians to enter businesses and homes. Our technicians now ask different questions on their call on approach, practise social distancing, limit the people in the same room as them and practise good hygiene with every visit. They need to be safe.



Your wisdom will make the difference to many. As a leader, you are likely to be operating selflessly, and always thinking of others. However, your mental health is important. Selfishly, you will need ‘you time’.

Your clarity, the space to think and collaborate will be needed. It’s no time to be a task delegator. You will have to rely on many. It is the time to the be the wise, hopeful sensible leader that your business and teams need through this event, so they can prosper again on the other side.


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Jack Hole, Partner Services Division, Haakon Industries

I think the key Leadership trait during difficult times such as this is regular and factual communication to your staff. Outlining Management’s perspective on the reality of the situation, key problems to be addressed, the strategy for dealing with the problems and an acknowledgement of the people doing the “heavy lifting”.


We have created a “COVID 19” thread on our internal messaging system (Slack) for this purpose. I gather information from both our government health authorities and various company departments and then I post a daily update to all our staff on our COVID 19 thread.


The purpose is to keep everyone informed, inspire confidence in company Leadership in that there is a steady hand on the tiller and to make sure the efforts of those on the front lines is recognized and appreciated.


By no means do I wish to suggest we have this mastered! But making the daily post is part of one of our cultural norms of treating people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.


If I was an employee of an organization, I would want to know the company management’s perspective of the current state, what they strategy is being undertaken to deal with it and an appreciation of the work I am performing – particularly if I am on the front lines. 


Ron Zielinski, Global Customer Service Leader, Coherent Inc.


In the present world of COVID19, leadership is required more than ever but in my view, leadership requires followers. Without followers, you are walking alone. You might find some newly committed followers naturally looking to you for leadership in these times, but if you haven’t been actively cultivating your followership over time, you will find the impact to your business will be modest at best—you’re lacking the momentum of a large mass moving in your direction.

I cannot offer the winning recipe without understanding the operating context but here are my ingredients:


#1. Keep informed using the best trusted sources 


#2. Formulate your own views how and where to navigate


#3. Communicate as much as possible to:


  • Eliminate employee fear (several important forms to address);
  • Provide level-headed assessments of the terrain and promote a calm confidence.
  • Provide easy to communicate forums (live, virtual town-hall meetings, communication groups, videos, etc.) and contribute to them frequently;
  • Set expectations. I like to use the concept of “anti-fragile” (N. N. Taleb)
    – don’t aim for resilience, use the stress to get stronger, like a muscle being stressed in a workout. “We’ll emerge stronger than before and better than our competitors.” 
  • Be smart about your time investments. Select key activities that will indeed make you feel stronger in future.

#4. Stay aligned with your executive management team. All energy should drive to the desired target.


For those that have spent the past two years travelling, meeting their teams, helping them navigate through challenges and developing them to their fullest. Your followership will spark your leadership.”



#FSN20 is an annual celebration of excellence, innovation and leadership shaping the global field service sector. This content is proudly sponsored by Salesforce.

#FSN20 is an annual celebration of excellence, innovation and leadership shaping the global field service sector. This content is proudly sponsored by Salesforce.

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