Forged in Crisis Webcast with Harvard Professor, Dr. Nancy Koehn

On Wednesday, April 1, 2020, Walker & Dunlop hosted our webcast, “Navigating the Markets: Forged in Crisis with Harvard Professor, Dr. Nancy Koehn.”

View "Navigating the Markets"

Our CEO, Willy Walker, and Nancy shared their thoughts on leadership in times of great crisis, discussed the importance of strong leadership, and provided an update on the CRE market. They covered:

  • Potential timing for an economic rebound, considering employment rates
  • Liquidity in the market, and an update on spreads
  • The importance of honesty, transparency, self-care, and the acknowledgement of fear
  • Lessons learned from history’s most famous leaders in crisis

Follow us on YouTube for the latest webcast and videos. If you have any comments or questions about the evolving economic landscape and how it is impacting the CRE space, our experts are available and fully operational to help. Additionally, if you have topics you would like covered during one of our future webcasts, we would be happy to take your suggestions.

A bit about each speaker:

Willy Walker
Willy Walker

Willy Walker is chairman and chief executive officer of Walker & Dunlop. Under Mr. Walker’s leadership, Walker & Dunlop has grown from a small, family-owned business to become one of the largest commercial real estate finance companies in the United States. Walker & Dunlop is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and in its first seven years as a public company has seen its shares appreciate 547%.

Nancy Koehn
Nancy Koehn

Nancy Koehn is an historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. She has coached leaders from many organizations and speaks frequently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the World Business Forum. An accomplished author and scholar (she earned her MA and PhD degrees in history from Harvard), she spent ten years writing Forged in Crisis, her first book aimed at a popular audience. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, and is a dedicated equestrian.

Q&A Transcript

Question: How did you pick these five exceptional leaders? Were there any generalities in regard to their personality or their tactics that made them so successful?

NK: They were each people who got exponentially better in crisis. They got massively better because they wanted to work on themselves. They saw even in dark, difficult times that there was always an opportunity, day by day for something to learn. They then translated that into worthy impact. The key aspect was that none of them saw it coming yet they kept on moving forward and accessing resilience muscles and improvising and discovering their mission was empowering to them and transcended them. The willingness to work on themselves, their impact, the embrace of a mighty mission and the great flexibility were all common themes that drew me to these people.

Question: Any thoughts right now for government leaders, company leaders, team leaders, family leaders? How people can think about image and showing strength during these difficult times?

NK: We are challenged because we are distant. Zoom and skype go a long, long way. The tone of your voice, the way you hold yourself in front of the camera… The ability to frame the situation gives people trustworthy information and it shows; here are the things we can deploy against these crises. That is incredibly grounding. You have to be able to paint a picture of what is going to happen as we move forward. You have to be able to paint a picture of the world after this and so people understand we aren’t just acting for today and the day after that.

Question: Talk about that Nancy as it relates to Shackleton and Lincoln - the task at hand was to save my sailors and to live another day. The thing with Lincoln was he had to set a narrative for what the states would look like after the war was over.

NK: Shackleton spoke of when the lifeboats would come and painted a mental picture of what it would be like afterwards. It was critical to have that future point to and the next bit of progress for his men and it was their mental medicine. Lincoln began planning for the end of the war in 1863 as to what the union would look like at the end of the war if the union won.

Question: Any suggestions or tactics to leaders now as it relates to the stress. Anything about routines, to set a certain tempo, to lift your face up and chest out in the face of adversity?

NK: Routine is critical. It is grounding, stabilizing and allows people to do much better than in the absence of routine. The more volatile the situation, the more important it is for routine. Lincoln had a routine, Shackleton had a routine, all these leaders had a routine. They had the self-discipline and self-regulation to stick to those routines. I tell everyone it is very important to have the daily tasks you stick to. Don’t show up in your sweats to Zoom calls. Every day there were duties posted. Every week their duty roster shifted. This was an extraordinary life/death situation that never even came close to mutiny.

To address loneliness, Lincoln found ways of recovering and would share jokes or share Shakespeare quotes. They would share tension free time with people. They would have a first mate. Someone who is their right arm person, someone they trust and someone they can share vulnerabilities. You need a safe place to recover from those emotions, to restore yourself and to share them. All leaders had one or two people who were their trusted first mates.

No leader does it alone.

Question: Leaders need to decide what trade-offs a leader is willing to make. Can you talk about people trying to think through their trade off? And also their framework as it relates to Colin Powell’s 40% information versus 70% information?

NK: I think they’re very much related. Yesterday Willy and I were speaking about this. Willy why don’t you share what Colin Powell said and I’ll launch into both pieces.

WW: Colin Powell said when focusing on military decisions if you have less than 40% of applicable information you don’t have enough information to make a decision, yet if you wait for over 70% information than you have waited too long and you will not be able to meet the moment or you will make a decision someone has already made for you.

NK: Two things – you have to have a way to find a good way to sketch off those tradeoffs for yourself. They also all wrote for themselves. I’m not talking about diaries, to do lists, memos, etc. I’m talking about notes to themselves. Lincoln wrote notes to himself and would jot down ideas. Ways of parsing things out for yourself within the 40/70 bookends. Necessarily incomplete and partly it’s on your best educated intuition. There is always a strategic leap of faith in these moments. So much is up for grabs and so much is unknown on the downsides, so all great leaders gather what information they can and then make the leap of faith and make your choice.

Question: When you are talking about Rachel Carson in your book, Carson took pleasure in everyday life. How do we find pleasure in the poetry of everyday life?

NK: That’s about getting off our devices. We need to get somewhere quiet. You have to be able to distance yourself enough to soak that in. It’s dancing with your dog very briefly, so you are able to put away the heaviness of those moments. It is the sun coming out after torrential rain. It is restorative, and it is the source of our humanity, and its what feeds our souls. It keeps us vibrant; it keeps us compassionate, and keeps our character strong. We need those moments.

Question: What are your thoughts on how long it will take the global economy to get back up and going?

NK: I think for a lot of the less developed world, this will be very, very hard. We’re beginning to see glimmerings of countries working together and there is this extraordinary cross country sharing of therapeutic drugs and coordination in particular for a vaccine. We’re beginning to see the first glimmerings of countries extending hands to each other. A lot will depend on the leadership in more developed countries to see if they hold up the less developed countries. You always hope that leaders will grow in compassion as well as competence. It will be interesting to see if the US can step out of its isolationism and give to countries less fortunate than us. I believe it is very valuable opportunity as well as an obligation of ours to do that.

Question: In times of crisis, how can experienced leaders grow new leaders during this time?

NK: The most powerful way you can help grow your leaders is by showing up and being your best self and then getting better. Without even realizing it, you are making leaders every day. People are hungry for courage and kindness right now. We are all learning as we go. We are going to learn a ton about how to be better and where our vulnerabilities are now.

Question: Does leadership come naturally or is it learned?

NK: The makings of leaders is hugely - this is my moment and giving what you have got. Leaders are made. They are not born. And that making is even faster during these very difficult times.

Question: How do you know what information to share and what information not to share during times of crisis?

NK: Brutal honesty. When in doubt, brutal honesty and credible hope, you don’t want to hold back information because people will lose trust in you and they will become anxious. That credible hope piece married to relevant facts is quite important.

Question: Someone noticed you had ribbons over your shoulder and asked what type of riding you do?

NK: I ride English. These are ribbons from jumping. Most barns are on lock down, so the staff stays healthy to take care of the horses. Talk about the poetry of everyday life, I really miss my horses.

If you have any comments or questions about the evolving economic landscape and how it is impacting the CRE space, our experts are available and fully operational to help. Additionally, if you have topics you would like covered during one of our future Wednesday webcasts, we would be happy to take your suggestions.

Follow us on YouTube for the latest webcast and videos.

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