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:
45. Ollie Smith, CEO of Card Accounts
I am giving my team a purpose by supplying them with a vision of where we are going, including achievable goals they can focus on in the medium-term. I believe that by giving them something to look forward to and work towards, they will not feel isolation and know that there is a future for the team beyond this difficult period of time.
46. Alex Azoury, Founder & CEO of Home Grounds
It’s a tough time for everyone right now, but the least we can do as business leaders is keep our employees informed – and not rolling their eyes at false promises. What we’re doing is pivoting to radical transparency. We’re opening up the accounting books to show our employees how much runway we have. And, we’re doing our best to let people know if we’ll need to furlough, decrease work hours, etc. at least one month ahead of time.
You can still be a great leader from a distance. Your words and passion for your business can transcend being in the same room as your employees, if you allow it. Using the means you have for communication is vital, have daily meetings still, a video chat will still have the same effect on morale if you give people that boost that they need. Be understanding and helpful, people will no doubt be struggling at this time so you need to be the anchor. Help them to see that they will not fall, much like the business won’t.
48. Radosław Bułat, CEO & Co-Founder of Applover
To inspire our teams at Applover, we show them every day that we are still a team, that we work together. Besides the daily project calls, we often talk about non-work related subjects on Slack or Discord, we share our hobbies, life-hacks, and tips. We exchange knowledge and life experiences by offering support to every member of our team on a daily basis. They know that and are constantly assured that we will help them with every issue.
49. Mike Richards, Founder of Golf Einstein
If my experience with managing a remote team has taught me one thing it’s that sincere appreciation and effective coaching skills help make leading from a distance easier. Being vocal and praising hardworking employees is the easiest and most effective way of making each member feel part of the team and encourage them to do even better. With this being said, it’s also important to be there for struggling employees by messaging or emailing them guides and offering them advice and guide them along the way.
Maintaining open communication with your team members while valuing their growth, progress, and health not only uplifts them but can also empower them to improve and do better. These two simple things create an ideal work environment that makes your presence felt and appreciated. Remember, a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘how can I help you?’ goes a long way!
50. Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart:HR
Leadership is a test in clarity, courage, and calm under chaos. MLK said it best: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is imperative to remember two things and lead your organization with them in mind: 1) People will remember how you responded to the crisis and that may determine whether they seek to stay employed at your organization once the crisis has been contained. 2) You aren’t expected to have all of the right answers, but empathy and triangulating ideas with bright minds will help lead you down the path in which you should go.
51. Rameez Ghayas Usmani, Digital Marketing Executive at PureVPN
Show your team the silver linings of working in isolation to keep them motivated. Make them aware of the perks of working from home — such as following no dress code and spending more time with family during this alarming situation. Analyze each individual’s personal interests and use these facts to keep them moving forward. For instance, I have an employee who loves cars and I always tell him to work hard if he wants to drive his own Nissan GTR. Reassure them that working from home in isolation will not only allow them to avoid less interaction with people but also allows you to look after their family. I always urge my team to listen to motivational lectures and read books to keep their motivation levels high. Let them know that they are important to the company and their existence matters. Show them the reason to stay motivated.
52. David Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com
Sincere relationships with subordinates is the essence of authentic leadership. An authentic leader has good listening skills. They will consider all ideas with an open mind and change their opinion only if the arguments make sense. An authentic leader is transparent and honest. Authentic leaders believe in open communication and make sure to combine their directness with empathy. The image they project in public is not drastically different from how they really are in private. They don’t hide their mistakes and weaknesses, and have the courage to actually be who they really are. Finally, authentic leaders are consistent. They are principled and behave on a consistent manner that is not going to be moved by trivialities.
53. Charlie Worrall, Digital Marketing Executive at Imaginaire
Checking in on your team members is one of the most important things you can do as a leader and even a business owner. Or it takes a few minutes on the phone or even a video chat so that you can keep up-to-date on how they’re doing and whether they’re okay working from home. At this point, if they’re not okay that’s where you can actually intervene and offer some guidance or need help. That might mean they need an extra monitor to stay productive or just a few tips on how to stay on task and not get distracted. Rather than penalizing them if you’re not being as productive as usual help them to get there and be supportive instead.
54. Anh Trinh, Managing Editor of GeekWithLaptop
As a CEO it’s my job to ensure that my company runs smoothly despite the coronavirus pandemic. I sent my employees home and gave them their 13th check in advance to ensure that they have extra enough money to feed themselves for a month. I also gave them assurances that the company will still have a place for infected employees once this coronavirus fiasco has ended. Medical supplies and food may be scarce during this pandemic, but goodwill and assurances are in plenty of supply, which is why I advise leaders to spread goodwill during these trying times.
55. David Gasparyan, President of Phonexa
The most important action for a business and a leader to take in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus is to ensure the health and well-being of employees and the community-at-large. That is why in the early stages of the virus spread we created a company policy regarding hand-washing and our “stay home if you’re sick” policy to let our team know that our top priority is their safety. As we have joined many others in promoting social distancing by working from home, I have reminded our staff how resilient we are as individuals and as a company. In this new reality, we press on and maintain service to our clients while doing our part to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of this virus.
56. Patty Carl, President of Highland Performance Solutions
CEOs and leaders who are navigating this situation successfully are actively engaging their teams. Businesses have never encountered the unique challenges presented by COVID-19, and leaders do not have easy answers – by bringing a broad set of leaders together to brainstorm solutions, they’re able to crowdsource the best ideas, understand and respond to internal and external forces more quickly and effectively. Businesses who are able to unite their organizations creatively during difficult times can hope to emerge from the crisis a stronger, more connected organization.
57. Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls
In times of uncertainty or crisis, here are the top qualities in an effective leader: Integrity — strong moral compass, honest, good character are not negotiable. Humility — the best leaders I know are humble. Sense of Humor — this is a nice to have but great when times are tough if they do not take themselves too seriously. Smart — not just book sense but common sense too. Positive and high energy — they do not have to be optimists but I find pessimists to be too negative, they should be upbeat but realistic.
58. Carol Guess, Chair of the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
I have utilized the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work” in order to maintain the sense of camaraderie that pervades our physical work space. Staff now see that being a team is not defined by physical space, but instead, a mindset. A leader has to possess fortitude to endure and inspire the same in his or her team. A leader should also possess great character to show their team that they care about each team member personally and is working to create great solutions for their survival and that of the business.
59. Pegah Ebrahimi, COO of Cisco Collaboration
In these times, it’s critical that as leaders we step up and over communicate and be present more than ever, both in providing continuous direction and praising our teams. Stay connected with your teams and help them focus on what they can control and not focus on the fear and uncertainty. And lots of gratitude and praise — there are some things in life that truly have no limit and praise is one of them. Life still continues for our families, our communities and our customers, and as leaders in collaboration we can have a massive impact for them. And when I can, I try to throw some humor in too to balance out the negativity and remind us all that we’re in this same boat together, and we will come out of this stronger and better.
60. Ray Zinn, Author & Longest Serving CEO in Silicon Valley
Leadership qualities needed during a crisis are three fold where first, you practice servant leadership and your job is to serve your employees, not the other way around. In this way, employees will feel that you have their backs especially important during a crisis. Second, communicate, communicate, communicate where you reiterate the mission and how it will be achieved, especially critical during a crisis when employees may be easily distracted. Third, share the burden so if employees take pay cuts, make sure yours is twice as deep as those who work for you. In all that you do, from servant leadership to sharing the burden, make sure your teams know you are all in this together.
61. Scot Chisolm, Co-founder and CEO of Classy
Adaptive: In this time a leader needs to adapt to ever-changing situations and be able to pivot quickly. Being more nimble will be vital during these unprecedented times. For example, a leader may need to learn a new technology that allows them to communicate regularly with their team. At Classy we use Slack, Google Hangouts and even Zoom – where we recently hosted a 200 person virtual cheers in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
Transparent: While each type of business is going through their own struggles, team members need to see that their leaders have confidence in a positive outcome. While you don’t want to sugar coat things to the point of not being honest or transparent, it’s important leaders bring a sense of positivity to the workplace during these challenging times.
Empathetic: Each person deals with crises differently and each team members’ situation is different. As leaders we need to be empathetic to individuals and remember they may be experiencing increased anxiety, having to work while homeschooling their children, or even dealing with a sick family member. Be flexible, allow employees to work from home, and try to put yourselves in their shoes.
62. Kean Graham, CEO & Founder of MonetizeMore
Authenticity: Never tell others to do things you wouldn’t do yourself. An authentic leader leads by example and not by orders.. An authentic leadership company culture is empowered by the same work lifestyle that the founder has enabled for him or herself. An authentic leader is honest with their employees about what’s going on but inspires hope via a plan that can be followed by all employees including the leader.
63. Julie Myers Wood, CEO of Guidepost Solutions
We are transparent. There’s no established playbook for this circumstance. We are drawing on our experiences serving in government after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, but those experiences differ markedly from what we face here, and we can’t provide cookie cutter answers to these challenges.
We have communicated broadly that our decisions during this time are driven by two core principles – first, protecting our people, and then second, taking steps to protect our business so we can continue to assist our clients with their mission-critical needs.
We remember the person behind the job. A critical part of our leadership strategy is checking in on our colleagues who have kids or elderly parents, those who are in vulnerable health categories and those who are concerned for any reason. This helps demonstrate that we are all in this together and we recognize that this situation may be affecting each employee in a wide variety of ways.
We are including a wider group of leadership when making key decisions. These times may call for tough decisions and we are asking for input from a broader group of our key executives. This shared decision making process helps to ensure consensus and buy-in.
64. Michael Shapot, Associate at Compass
Quickly evaluate yourself and your key strengths, when the leader is in growth mode and aggressively learning then the leader is easier to follow, stirring up energy around learning creates excitement.
Speak with each of your key team members individually and ask them what is the next growth opportunity they see, before you share your ideas. Getting people to think adds energy to them and creates the motivation for them to learn.
Lead up quickly and become a “leader/follower” example. Give your team exercises to develop their thinking… such as, what 3 opportunities do you see from your position? Give them a day to see the opportunities. Then ask them questions around those opportunities. Idea compounding is the true team building.
Review profit together. Numbers regardless of their position give people an idea of where they stand. Fear is all about the unknown.
Become the model of your organization. People do not follow leaders, they follow models of the behavior. Fear is contagious and you can not expect people to pivot if the leader is not positive and in action.
65. Robin Throckmorton, President of Strategic HR inc.
The largest issue facing people right now is the lack of information and constant change of information that is increasing anxiety and fear. The best solution to decrease anxiety and fear is sincere communication that is open and transparent, which is how our business operates anyway. As the President, I’ve continued to make myself available to all employees in any mode that they want to communicate with me. And, when they do, they are my priority and focus to help them navigate and process all that is going on an how it applies to them. I try to share anything I know about what is taking place and how it impacts our business and team. Bottomline, be flexible, respond quickly and positively, listen to concerns and help navigate them, and reiterate best practices of washing your hands, taking care of yourself, etc.