Some say this crisis is merely good training for the next one. While we have no way of knowing what that next crisis might be, one thing is for sure — the current coronavirus crisis has shifted the way we work and will have lasting repercussions.
There are leadership lessons to be learned from bad situations, and strong leaders know that opportunity and innovation lie at the heart of any disruption or dramatic change. When this crisis is over, many of the lessons below might become standard business practice, so it’s worth taking notes on the many insights we have gathered. What was previously unthinkable in the workplace, is now possible, and has highlighted the resilience of the human spirit. We asked 66 CEOs and executives how they are leading from home and how they manage to inspire their teams from a distance. There’s a lot of advice here, so be sure to take a break (wash your hands) and return later.
Here is what Dave Molenda, Founder of Positive Polarity said (See #28!):
Try new things to adjust to the new normal.
Connect in new ways.
Adjust the attitude, as this WILL pass!
Compliment someone every day.
Keep your routine as much as possible!
What other Leaders said:
23. Jenna Cooper, Founder of C3 Collective
Live your company values and adhere to your mission during a crisis. It is a defining moment, which can, at times, make or break your company. As a leader, demonstrate who you are and remain consistent. One communication or statement won’t do it. Be transparent about your operations plus short and long-term goals. Above all, listen. At the end of the day, people want to be heard. Set up regular virtual meetings with managers, and have them do the same with their teams. And keep the camera ON. They need that human connection, not just a voice over their computer.
24. Shawn Johal, Entrepreneur & Business Growth Coach
There are tons of articles that suggest crisis times need a “stoic” leader who acts more than they speak. Action is necessary, but modern crises call for modern leadership: vulnerability, storytelling, and honest communication become extremely powerful tools. For leaders to best navigate COVID-19, communicating non-stop with teams is incredibly important. Speaking openly and sharing their own perspective helps employees feel less “in the dark” and, as a result, they feel less concerned for the future. Teams that receive non-stop engagement from their leaders will feel more equipped to work remotely, to navigate challenging scenarios, and to weather storms. Tell stories, share your thoughts, have honest conversations. People rally behind people; not robots.
25. Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, President and CEO of Do Good Work Consulting Group
As President and CEO, leading a dynamic team comprised of both on-site and remote staff now all working ‘remote-only,’ I am taking several steps to inspire my team that is now physically decentralized but must continue to work together virtually. Daily, I remind my team that we are ‘in this together’ and we must continue to stick together though threat of spreading/contracting coronavirus forces us apart; I clarify that we are practicing ‘physical distancing,’ NOT social distancing and we will stay connected emotionally.
Rather than deny or ignore signs of anxiety, I engage them and make time for us to talk openly about our concerns, fears, and worries. I affirm very directly the well-being of the company and our financial outlook — as openly as I can— especially since one of our major client bases (i.e., colleges, schools) has moved to ‘online-only’ classes and will likely find ways to end the academic year early. This is more than ‘pep talk’ — it’s real talk; I admit upfront to my team that I have no pre-existing script for working through this COVID-19 crisis and I’m ‘in it with them,’ but we’re working together to ‘build it as we fly’ and taking an abundance of caution to protect our beloved team, their families, communities, clients, and beyond. Through social media, text, and email, I offer tips for working from home and ways to avoid loneliness, since loneliness can be lethal.
26. Drew Stevens, CEO of StevensConsulting Group
This trying time is distinctly about leadership and communication. First, exemplary leaders will constantly and relentlessly communicate to staff about the vision of the organization, the core values and how these two must manifest to ensure delivery to the firms most imperative asset — customers. Secondly, leaders need to place calm and solace in their employees, As Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated during WWII, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Leaders can placate this by a) working side by side with employees, b) taking suggestions from employees that create efficiency c) maintaining the status quo and not allowing the bombardment of the press, social media, et. al. to damage the essential corporate culture.
27. Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, Founder of The Marriage Restoration Project
According to business coach, Todd Herman, CEOs separate themselves into three groups: the fear focused CEOs, the un-focused CEOs, and the strategy focused CEOs. The leaders that stand out take calm, collected level-headed thinking and action swifter than the rest. A common denominator of these leaders is that they have a daily meditation practice, that has been proven to keep people calm and stable amidst uncertainty. All businesses are experiencing a dip in revenue during this time of uncertainty and Tthe difference between those who make it and those who don’t will come down to decisive action and level headed thinking. Use this time as an opportunity for personal improvement and introspection. Come up with answers to what shifts you can make in your life and your business to be able to withstand this great test. This is what great leaders do.
28. Dave Molenda, Founder of Positive Polarity
Try new things to adjust to the new normal.
Connect in new ways.
Adjust the attitude, as this WILL pass!
Compliment someone every day.
Keep your routine as much as possible!
29. Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful
First, be patient, understanding and accommodating. These times are scary enough; people don’t need an overbearing, angry boss yelling at them to work more and forget about everything else. Some employees may be fearful or simply overwhelmed by the situation, and if they need some time off of work to process it all, that time should be given. Many young people are experiencing a crisis like this for the first time in their lives.
At the same time, things need to be done to inspire and motivate workers even in times of distress. One way to do this is to assign small, achievable goals for employees to take on. Not only will this prevent employees from feeling overwhelmed, completing small goals rather than struggling through difficult tasks is a great way to motivate and encourage employees, and get them back into working mode.
30. Dr. Vince Molinaro, Founder and CEO of Leadership Contract
Hold others accountable for high standards of performance. Real leadership accountability is built on a foundation of strong standards and clear expectations. Tackle tough issues and make difficult decisions. These leaders have the courage to go after issues that other leaders avoid. By doing so, these issues don’t keep a company stuck nor does it impede strategy execution. Effectively communicate the strategy throughout the organization. This behavior is important because it helps teams and employees understand how their work contributes to making the company successful, in turn making each task more meaningful and rewarding. Express optimism about the company and its future. Accountable leaders are excited about the company and their leadership role. Their sense of optimism drives employee engagement. Display clarity about external trends in the business environment. Accountable leaders don’t have their “heads stuck in the sand”, or are not too internally focused. In contrast, they assess their environment for opportunities or identify threats and risks they can manage.
31. Mark Webster, Co-Founder of Authority Hacker
As a small, remote business, we’re in good footing to weather this storm, however, that doesn’t mean we intend to just sit back and ride it out. As sales inevitably begin to drop, it’s clear that focusing our efforts on sales-related material is not the best thing to do as a company. What this means, however, is that we will have a good opportunity to really reflect on our business and its processes for a few months without the constant stress of trying to beat targets and push ourselves on that front.
Instead, we can look at how we can make things flow better throughout the company and make the small quality of life improvements instead so that when there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re back and ready than ever before. This is the perfect opportunity for this type of thing and to waste it worrying too much on the future would be a grave mistake in my opinion.
32. Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group
The primary concern during a time of crisis for leaders should always be around the health and safety of employees and customers. Once that has been addressed a great consideration is one that Jeff Bezos employees at Amazon when thinking about the long-term: “What won’t change?”
By thinking through what will not change whenever companies emerge from the crisis can help leaders inspire their teams to stay focused and think beyond the moment. Focusing on what is likely to stay unchanged after the crisis such as products or services that customers might need – including social interaction after weeks or months of a quarantine – can help Executives work with their teams to prepare while better serving employees and, in turn, customers.
33. Josh Brenner, CEO of Vettery
It takes a lot of trust to set your remote employees free and count on them to continue performing outside of the conventional work environment. Once you define your expectations and communication methods, leave the rest up to your employees. If your team feels micromanaged, they’ll feel less motivated to complete assigned tasks efficiently and diligently. Trusting your team will gain you more respect and result in more productive work!
Be available. Remind your team that while they can’t pop over to your desk with quick questions or concerns, you are still fully reachable from home. Offer to hop on the phone or video chat whenever anything comes up – (over)communication is key! Employees want to trust that you’re still there as a resource and they have someone supporting them outside the office.
34. Tapan Patel, Co-founder of Third Rock Techkno
To keep the employees inspired, leaders must exhibit their tough, rational side that is capable of making bold decisions. On the other hand, it’s vital that your employees are convinced that you, as their leader, fully understand their fears about how the pandemic may affect their family and their personal lives.
As the fears of COVID-19 spread, the leaders at my organization chose to talk to our employees with the utmost transparency. We were honest in admitting that we don’t know everything about the crisis while also assuring them that we know enough to handle the situation well and take care of them. This contributed a lot to establishing trust amongst the teams.
I believe emotional intelligence, transparency, and empathy are the main attributes that can help leaders keep their employees motivated and calm during these fearful times of a pandemic.
35. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com
Every Friday for the last few years we have made it a practice to send out an email to our entire team. This email typically sums up what various departments been working on throughout the week, solid press about our company, and upcoming events to look forward to, like company potlucks. Our company is located in Calabasas, California, where we have weathered our fair share of devastating wildfires (including the Woolsey Fire in 2018) and earthquakes. These emails have been incredibly valuable for keeping our entire team’s morale uplifted and positive. We will continue to send them out and believe in their power to keep us connected and optimistic as a team now more than ever.
36. Leonard Ang, CMO of EnKo Products
As leaders, we do our best to provide support to our teams by encouraging them and by establishing good communication. We want our employees to be able to work without any concerns or fears therefore, we always encourage them and guide them thru this crisis. We listen to their concerns and with the best of our abilities, we try to help them in any way. Our employees are our greatest asset and our company ensures that they are well taken care of at all times.
37. Aaron Velky, CEO & Co-Founder of Ortus Academy
Leaders don’t panic, but they do acknowledge fear and face it with their team together.They stand as the bottom of the pyramid and open their doors to listen to support their teams.
Vulnerability in the face of this is critical to leadership. Share with your team what you’re feeling and afraid of. Acknowledge that we’re all together. Listen to their fears and if you don’t have the answer, say so. But commit to figuring it out together.
We aren’t going to panic, but we are going to prepare. Preparation begins with immediate needs, then shifts to longer term as things get secured. Preparation might be more than just food – it could be technology to work from home, means to get things delivered, or borrowing office supplies for remote success.
Leadership is not a role, it’s a decision. While it may be hard, scary, difficult, or even costly, it’s a responsibility that straddles the choice. If you choose to show up for your team, show up fully, and lean in on one two and three to be humble enough to serve them.
38. Jan Bruce, CEO of meQuilibrium
For anyone managing people, this new business climate entails navigating much more than the actual impacts on the workforce, supply chain, and customer experience — it means keeping people focused, agile, and able to manage through fast-changing and adverse situations. Clearly, keeping your workforce resilient in this climate is going to be a challenge, but also an opportunity.
This is the time for leaders to step up and help people manage their own fears and panic, and thrive as best as they can. People are uncertain about the future, and that means they aren’t focused on being their best and perhaps doing their best. Resilient leaders may be the last defense in holding the line on business goals as well as the safety and well-being of their employees.
The bottom line for leaders: Recognize employees are wired to ”go negative.” It’s human nature to be afraid of spiders, tigers and the dark. Negativity tends to snowball, derail people and cascade into catastrophizing. Therefore it’s critical right now to practice and enforce realistic positivity so that even if we cannot control the situation, we can control our response to it.
39. Mikaela Kiner, Founder & CEO of Reverb
Organizations emulate their leaders, so it’s critical that leaders remain both calm and empathetic. Be transparent about the impact the virus is having on your business and set clear expectations about what will happen if you’re affected by the downturn. Acknowledge people’s feelings of uncertainty and anxiety and make sure they have mental health resources whether that’s through your EAP, coaching or counseling. Be vulnerable; people will appreciate your humanity and it also gives them permission to open up about how this is impacting them personally.
40. Kristin Wilson, Founder of Our DJ Rocks
My philosophy when I wake up each day is – COMPASSION. I have to lead with compassion. There won’t be one human who doesn’t directly feel the effects of the world around us, and it’s up to us to lead by example. This year we are celebrating our 10 year anniversary – where our theme is Love, Lead, Excel. We wanted to do a party this summer to help a charity that is close to our hearts, but we have put that on hold, but I still believe strongly in that theme. Love what we do, love our clients and love our event industry. Lead by example, and excel at it all.
41. Melissa Smith, Founder & CEO of Association of Virtual Assistants
Lead by first by showing you care for your employees. Don’t start with the company. Start with them. Address what you believe their biggest concern. Don’t hide from it. Share what you are working and share if you are receiving outside counseling. This is not a sign of weakness rather a sign of being innovative and looking for answers and to make the best decisions. Get and provide support. You are likely making some of the most crucial decisions you’ve ever had to make. Seek counsel. Get the quiet time you need even when it feels as though the opposite of how you should be spending your time right now. For your employees, make sure they have a place to get the counsel and support they need.