When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.

Ancient Chinese proverb

Leadership requires a focus on the future. But what happens when you are in a crisis and tomorrow is as clear as mud? The origin of the word crisis comes from the Greek, krisis- a turning point in a disease, a vitally important state where any change will indicate either recovery or death. Innovation is the intervention that allows us to bravely face doomsday possibilities and creatively bridge to recovery - a better future, beyond the current chaos.

 One month into lockdown and the conversation in organizations is beginning to slightly shift. Every week, I am running several huddles for CEO’s who come from all industry sectors. And the word – opportunity – is surfacing. It reminds me of the images I have seen of bushfires, when tiny green shoots suddenly start pushing up from the hopelessly charred earth. Leaders are moving from the initial survival phase and starting to equip for a rapidly emerging, different marketplace. Two questions that need to be asked:

  1. Is it necessary and possible for us to reinvent our business?
  2. How can we adapt and rebound once the crisis abates?

The misfortune is that most organizations suppress the creative spark in people. I am working with some that are clinging onto their status quo and transferring their bureaucratic, hierarchical structures and mindsets into the virtual world of work. They settle for this new way of working to signify their adaptivity, but it is only superficial change. They are bunkering down, not looking up and out.



 Throughout history, technology has always driven change. In downturns and recessions, approximately 15% of businesses will reinvent themselves and invest in new growth areas, to outperform competitors. Companies such as IBM, General Electric, Disney, Tollhouse Cookies, Microsoft, General Motors, Burger King and Apple were either founded or reinvented themselves during economic recessions.

In a crisis, if we have the courage to pause and thoughtfully sift through all the chaos and pinpoint what matters, ingenuity will emerge. The challenge is that when we are in survival mode, it is counter intuitive to start imagining and dreaming.



  1. Envision - Identify all the risks in the business and when mitigated, look for rebound and reinvention opportunities
  2. Search– Look for what’s working elsewhere in the world and in your industry. Spot positive patterns and trends
  3. Question - Ask continually – how can we see and think about this differently?
  4. Empower - Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what is needed and let them surprise you
  5. Reflect- Innovation comes from being in a reflective, not a stressed, busy state. Create stillness and thinking time every day. Encourage others to do the same
  6. Connect - Bring diverse people together in forums. Listen to their experiences and capture ideas
  7. Challenge- Make it okay for people to speak up and disagree without fear of repercussion
  8. Experiment- Empower people to experiment and responsibly act on their ideas
  9. Play– We do our best work when we are having fun. Frame innovation as an important and enjoyable business activity, not a desperate measure
  10. Inspire– Remind people by finding ways to innovate, we are working to recover and build a better future

 Much is uncertain in the world and our thinking needs to extend beyond what used to exist to what is now possible. One month ago, we used to ask - why, and now we need to now ask - why not? Generate solutions by finding hidden patterns in our changing world and try and make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Innovation is more than just dreaming – it is experimenting and coming up with new and imaginative ideas that are actionable.

 During the COVID-19 crisis, innovation needs to be nourished, not extinguished under legitimate, heavy pressure to avoid risks and survive. It is impossible to be creative without the possibility of risk and failure. Innovation occurs when leaders create safe, open spaces for exploring ideas, extend trust and get out of people’s way. Physically we are in LOCKDOWN but let your business thinking - OPENUP!



In my book- The Worthy Leader – I couple two universal and timeless notions – wisdom and leadership to speed up leadership development and improve business outcomes. The Map below provides a comprehensive picture of all the developmental elements you need to switch on to accelerate your growth. The map has five key elements, each of which has three coordinates. In this article, I explore – Innovation- as during COVID-19, it is critical for business sustainability. Expecting a return of our recent status quo is not a wise business strategy.


The interdependent map elements are listed below:

  • Knowing – The cognitive element: Our self-awareness, and perspective that will help us lead innovatively through this crisis.
  • Connecting – The emotional element: The relationships we invest in that return loyalty and teamwork during challenging times.
  • Being – The spiritual element: Our calm self-belief, sense of purpose and character will steady us and reassure our teams.
  • Discerning – The element of insight: How we think systemically, hold ourselves to account and make the best, often tough decisions, sometimes in haste and with insufficient data, as the crisis unfolds.
  • Delivering – The element of action: The actions we take in an unknown space, resulting in better outcomes. 

  • Impact – This concerns consequences: The lasting positive impact our decisions and actions can have on our teams, peers, the business and ourselves.



Maryanne Mooney has never been so inspired to help leaders connect with their potential and encouraging them to act on it. Her goal is to help leaders navigate their challenges and to support their growth. She does this through the power of meaningful and practical conversations. In the past 25 years, Maryanne has worked on five continents with more than 10,000 leaders and teams. Her focus is leadership, team and organization development, across all industry sectors. Her experience includes building two consulting firms that were market leaders. Maryanne lives in Australia and works with leading organizations throughout the world. She is an executive coach, president of the Board for the USA Senhoa Foundation and a YPO Spouse and Certified Forum Facilitator. Maryanne's method to coach leaders develop faster on their journey to wisdom is outlined in her recently published book – The Worthy Leader – From Mastery to Potential. The book is available on her website –

Maryanne will be writing a weekly column in this newsletter, drawing on her book and years of leadership development experience, to provide practical tips about how to be a worthy leader, in troubled times.

 Links to recently published articles: