We are in unique and unsettling times. And while the COVID-19 Pandemic creates unique challenges for business owners, we can learn from past challenges.  Now is the time for strong leadership.  Your employees are looking to you for it.  So are your customers and other business partners.

I’m taking a short break from my series on accountabililty, check back next week for the final installment. 

In my career, we have faced several challenges.  Some were expected (Y2K), others caught us off guard (9/11).  Many were financial (dot-com bust and 2008 recession).  We have survived numerous natural events (hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires).  But this worldwide crisis is unique in several ways.

The biggest difference with the pandemic is the unique aspect that no one is immune to it.  Almost every type of business is being impacted.  Every country is impacted in some way.  Small businesses are facing the most significant short-term crisis.  But large employers are going to be impacted as well.  The ramifications of the cancellations of sporting events and almost all public events are going to have a dramatic impact on a wide variety of industries.

The Burden of Leadership (AKA “It’s Lonely at the Top)

One of the fundamental facts that you must understand is that your team is looking to you for guidance and inspiration.  They have never needed stong leadership more than they do now.  They need reassurance.  It’s up to you to shoulder the burden and rise to the top.

There’s a story in the Bible about a woman named Esther.  She was a queen.  Without going into the details, she came to realize that she needed to stand up and speak up for her people.  But doing so would likely mean that she may be imprisoned or even killed.  Once the reality of the situation sunk in, a family member pointed out that perhaps she had risen to her position of leadership “for such a time as this“.

As a leader, you have risen to that level based on a variety of circumstances.  You have hopefully had training and support to help you develop your leadership skills.  You have weathered storms and built your team.  Perhaps, like Esther, you are ready “for such a time as this”.

But as they say, it’s “lonely at the top”.  Being the leader of an organization can be difficult.  And you often don’t have anyone to talk to about it.  Leaders need strategic advisors, coaches, and peer accountability to help them through difficult times.

Strong Leadership Requires Action-Oriented Leaders

One of the main things our teams are looking for from you is a clear plan of action.  This is a time for leaders to be both collaborative and decisive.  There are clear leadership tactics for leading in a crisis.  Here are some best practices.

Plan for Adversity and Execute

Do you have a crisis management plan?  If not, now is a great time to start one.  If you do, that’s great, but you probably did not have “global pandemic” as a risk.  However, you probably did identify other risks such as a recession or a natural disaster.  You may need to adapt the action items from these to create a new risk category.

Identify different levels of impact and the appropriate action items for each.  For example, in this case, you should identify what would happen with a 2-week isolation, 4-week isolation, 2 months and 3 months.  With each extension, we experience greater risk, more impact to our business and to our personal lives.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What is our work-at-home policy?
  • What is our pay policy should there not be work to be performed?
  • How will you respond to customer support issues?
  • What is our cash flow situation and do we have contingency measures in place?  (Will our customers be able to pay us on time?)
  • Are there security measures in place?
  • What message will you communicate with team members and customers?

Another way to look at it is to identify the impact on revenue.  What happens with a 20% reduction in revenue?  40%?  60%?  By identifying these different financial impacts, we can identify what changes need to be put into place with each scenario.  By taking this approach, you have a plan of action ready to execute and it helps you make the difficult decisions that you inevitably may have to face.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Some More

I cannot overstate how important this is.  When there is a vacuum of information, your team will create their own “reality”.  By communicating openly and honestly, you will help keep run-away fear from taking over.

We live in a world where instant communications via text, Slack and other platforms are all too common. However, leaders should not rely on these channels to be enough.  The lack of face-to-face conversations creates a level of disconnect that cannot be underestimated.  Now is the time for you to invest in tools to facilitate effective video communications.  Whether streaming (one-to-many meetings) or interactive (Zoom, Skype, etc.), leaders need to find a way to improve our communication channels and make your team feel connected.

Your main goal during this time is to maintain trust and support your team.  Connect with them on a regular basis.  Try to mimic traditional communication as much as possible.  If you typically had a 1-on-1 weekly with them, continue the practice over video conferencing.  Did you have a quick chat with them at the coffee machine each morning?  Try reaching out to them for a quick chat over the phone or Facetime each morning.

And to your business partners, customers and prospects…

They want to hear from you too.  We have all been inundated from every vendor we’ve ever worked with, telling us what they are doing to address this situation.  Most of these follow a fairly standard template.  And that is good for most casual relationships.

But we all have those very important strategic partners and accounts that are of utmost importance during these times.  You should take this opportunity to speak to them in the same calming, confident tones that you do your employees.  Make sure they know that you still have a “virtual open door” and that you are going to be there for them throughout this.

For prospects, just let them know that you are there whenever they are ready.  Don’t force the issue.  Some companies will be virtually shut down, while others may see this as a time to get things done.  By making yourself available, you are leaving the door open without trying to take advantage of the situation.

Did I say it enough???

Again, I cannot overemphasize the criticality of staying connected.  Use a variety of channels.  Try to match their preferences as much as possible.  And always, always err on the side of over-communicating.  If you are communicating too much, they will tell you.

Finally, be careful to always send clear, concise and consistent messages.  Conflicting or mixed messages lead to additional stress.  Which brings us to the next point.

Take Care of the Human Side – Including Yourself

This is a time of significant stress.  You may even be experiencing internal reactions that you have never felt before.  If we pay attention, our bodies will tell us what is going on.  The phrase “my stomach is in knots” came about for a reason.  Now is the time to promote the emotional health and wellness of everyone on your team.

I went through a fairly stressful period in my life several years ago.  During that time I allowed myself to get overweight.  I didn’t eat well and I didn’t exercise enough.  Fortunately, I eventually recognized what was going on.  I changed my diet, increased my activity level and dropped nearly 50 lbs!!  But the benefit wasn’t just physical.  It greatly improved my attitude, my confidence and my behavior toward others.

Start with leading your team with a calming tone of voice.  Anger, fear, and frustration come out in times like this.  Identify the emotional triggers that are likely to swing your mood in a negative direction.  Maintain a spirit of gratitude, even during troubling times.  The more we can focus on what to be thankful for, our mindset will stay positive as well.

And make sure to follow these other healthy suggestions  (for both you and your team):

  • Eat Well – Junk food doesn’t help our mental health.  Eat more fruits and veggies, fatty fish, legumes, foods rich in serotonin and dopamine, as well as anti-oxidants.
  • Get Sleep – The need for a solid night’s sleep is critical.  Don’t stay up worrying.
  • Get your mind off it – Don’t watch news around the clock.  Our 24 hours news cycle is stress-inducing.
  • Exercise – Go for a walk, it’s unlikely to catch the virus outside!
  • Talk to someone – Spend some time with mentors, coaches or counselors.
  • Meditation – Practice mindfulness as a method for silencing your inner voices and improve your focus.

To be effective, you must be on top of your game.  Taking care of yourself is the first and most important priority.

Show Strong Leadership, and Be Safe

Please, stay safe and take this time to be a leader in your organization, company, family and personal network.  You are here “for such a time as this”.  Now is the time to exercise those strong leadership skills you have been developing.

If you want to talk to someone, I’m available.  I’m offering free 30-minute phone or video calls with anyone who would like to chat and get some free advice.  Schedule time on my calendar here https://calendly.com/johnkjennings.

Or, contact me at jjennings@focalpointcoaching.com, or text me at 502-724-0430.