As an entrepreneur and CEO, I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs over the years. I’ve enjoyed times of success and growth, and pushed through challenges and setbacks. Although we have never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic in our lifetimes, I do know a thing or two about facing a crisis. Here are some of my thoughts and takeaways.
Now’s Not the Time to Do it Alone
Leadership during these times means you’ll need to guide your teams through uncertainty, risk and change. But it’s also important to understand you can’t do this alone. As you move forward, quickly establish a team that can collaborate, adapt and communicate effectively. Make sure the team is empowered to lead and execute the vision of the company.
Lead by Example
Never underestimate the power you have as a leader. Your emotions, behaviors and mindset are often reflected in your employees. Which means if you are acting anxious or impulsive, your team will feel that same anxiety and pressure. Even when everything seems like absolute chaos around you, executives must remain calm and focused on the top priorities.
This simple leadership characteristic is critical and effective. When you’re able to come from a place of inner clarity and conviction, it can stir confidence within the Team to keep pushing forward. Look for the best in people and understand that this is a new situation for everyone. As you lead by example, managers and employees will be more likely to follow suit.
Be Emotionally Intelligent
How are your Clients feeling about this pandemic? In these situations, many people may forgo luxuries and focus on basic necessities like safety, security and health. It’s important to keep this in mind as you interact with your Clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Showing kindness and empathy in your communication can go a long way for people struggling to cope with the changing landscape. It’s simple things like the following examples that can have a lasting impression on your audience:
- UberEats asks their Clients if they prefer their food left at the doorstep, instead of transferred by hand.
- Wrike, a task management system, offered their customers access to their premium membership package for free during the pandemic to ease the burden on their Clients.
- Adobe is giving higher education and K-12 institutional customers of their Creative Cloud apps the ability to request temporary “at-home” access for their students and educators. This is being granted through May 31, 2020 at no additional cost and is available globally.
Also be aware and conscientious of your employees’ situation. This may seem obvious, but without your Team you don’t have a business. Recognize the value of your employees and approach every decision with empathy and compassion. Many people are concerned about the health of their families, managing children during school closures, and adjusting to working from home. Powerful leaders not only encourage their teams to adapt and maintain a calm and disciplined approach, but also support them as and when they need it.
Decision-making During Crisis
Leaders are being bombarded with a steady stream of urgent concerns from multiple fronts. In this tumult, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos and lose focus on your priorities. Don’t let this happen! Assess your unique situation and zero in on the most pressing issues facing your business. Create priorities and start executing those decisions quickly.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some issues to consider:
- Strengthen digital capabilities. For many businesses, a mandatory remote workforce may be a new challenge. Use this time to learn about technology that can support you now and in the future.
- Maintain business continuity and financing. During a financial crisis, it’s critical to make the preservation of cash and liquidity a top priority.
- Support your team and strategy. Create accountability measures, keep your employees safe, and maintain a positive culture as much as possible.
- Provide consistent communication. How are you staying engaged with your employees and Clients? This is your chance to develop human connections and relationships that could cement your brand for many years to come.
Act Quickly and with Purpose
As a leader, you need to trust your management team. Individuals that are heavily involved in the company are probably in a better position to come up with creative solutions to unanticipated issues. If all the decisions go through you, it creates a bottleneck, which significantly delays effective action. Clearly state your initiatives and objectives, then allow your team to have flexibility for their unique positions.
When this pandemic ends (yes, it will end), it will put you in a position to evaluate how you performed under pressure. Use this as an opportunity to improve information quality in future crises.
Be as Transparent as Possible
Many companies are implementing a strategy of providing short, frequent communication as information becomes available. When there is an absence of communication, misinformation and assumptions often fill the void.
So as you make decisions based on the data you receive, make people aware of any changes. You’ll have to decide what information is necessary for different audiences (Clients, stakeholders, employees, etc.).
Learn to Adapt
With unprecedented times, often comes unparalleled progress. Progress happens when businesses learn to adapt, evolve and overcome seemingly impassable obstacles. An adaptive leader will help their team unlock their potential, encourage collaboration and innovation, and strengthen unity and purpose internally. Leaders that learn to adapt will be the catalysts for the upcoming transformation of business.
How will this Impact the Future of Business?
Do you see the glass as half empty, or half full? As an individual and especially as a leader, it’s important to look for the positives in a situation like this. The COVID-19 outbreak may have jumpstarted the next phase of business evolution. The key is to identify how your business can evolve to implement long-term changes as we adjust to the new normal.
Even though we may not have experienced a pandemic like this in our lifetime, we can still learn from past recessions. Studies have shown that companies who made deep cuts early on had the lowest chance of outperforming competitors when the economy recovered. Which means, businesses that were most likely to succeed were those that balanced various cost strategies. For example, they would invest comprehensively in the future while selectively reducing costs to survive the temporary recession.
With that being said, be sure to consider:
- Lasting effects of structural changes: You may be forced to do things differently in your company. Use that time to test whether those changes can/should be made long-term or not.
- Create future business models: Remote work was considered trendy before COVID-19. Now it might become mainstream for the adapted workforce.
- Strengthen your Business Continuity Plan: Hopefully your plan passed with flying colors, but it is time to learn and update it for future events.
Be Humble and Accept Feedback
Truly successful leaders listen. Listen to your Clients and listen to your employees. As you seek and implement feedback, you may discover cutting-edge solutions to propel you to the top of your industry. But this sometimes requires you to unlearn many of the “business norms” you’ve become comfortable with. Keep in mind that change and innovation is uncomfortable. But don’t be afraid to try new things and take calculated risks. This is a great opportunity to put your finger on the pulse of the marketplace.