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:
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:
1. Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY
My advice is to over-communicate to ensure employees feel connected in these uncertain and stressful times. Each Friday I write what’s called, “The Friday Email.” I’ve been doing this every Friday, without fail save for a Christmas Holiday or two. In the mail I try to capture the week. Now more than ever I realize its benefits.
My best advice to anyone in leadership is to control what you can. You can control your attitude. You can be optimistic. You can also do your best to be patient and empathetic with your clients and your staff, as we are all dealing with this same crazy storm. Clients are looking at immediate crisis plans. We are also starting to think about contingency and recovery plans. And we are looking at how we can help our clients think things through strategically and creatively.
2. Sachin Gupta, CEO of HackerEarth
Communicating, communicating, communicating – We are taking proactive steps to communicate consistently. It’s extremely important for not just the CEO, but the entire leadership team to constantly check-in and communicate with the entire team across product, sales, and marketing. Working from home can result in isolation and can be extremely challenging for teams that are accustomed to sitting together and being able to simply turn their chair around to talk with a co-worker.
Providing transparency – Situations like this are having a measurable impact on businesses everywhere. People know this and it creates uncertainty in their minds. As CEO along with the entire executive team, we are working to openly communicate with all team members, tell them what (if any) impact this will have on our business and how are we going to deal with it moving forward.
Showing empathy – Working remotely, combined with the fear of infection can be psychologically draining. It’s super important for leadership to show empathy in times like this. We are committed to enabling team members to deliver results and empathize if they are struggling with anything.
Creating a sense of normalcy – A situation like this is bound to create panic. Being locked up at home and thinking only about your safety can easily drive people crazy, hence it’s important to keep people engaged. While we are doing it with empathy, we are also working to create balance around moving ahead with business as usual. Keeping people engaged and working helps keep people’s minds off the negative news all of the time.
3. Jeffrey Hayzlett, Chairman & CEO of C-Suite Network
It’s a tough time and things can be grim but it’s always important to mitigate fears and boost moral; I fight fear with humor. I always reconnect and realign my team with the company’s core values. This inspires business continuity and quells issues that arise from a decentralized team. It’s important to lead by example when a crisis arises and leaders should reach out to their networks — concentric circles of trusted groups you belong to, such as associations, masterminds and coaching groups. Through networking, leaders can help one another with strategies to help lead their teams through times of crisis.No matter how small, do what you can to demonstrate a hero mentality and hero leadership through challenging times. It’s important to be a shining light that supports others in a time of crisis.
4. Zach Maurides, Founder and CEO of Teamworks
We are rallying around our mission to engage and empower athletes now more than ever. Our mission is unchanged. Why we do what we do is unchanged, but some of our employees’ jobs have changed dramatically. We have implemented daily wellness checks as part of our communications routine to ensure our staff are physically, mentally and emotionally well. Similarly, we often take for granted the time we’re able to interact throughout the day when we’re in the same building. We are making a conscious effort to be intentional about connecting and engaging with one another by spending five minutes on every call to catch up on things outside of work – everything from funny things our kids did today to new recipes.
5. Zain Jaffer, Founder and CEO of Zain Ventures
During this unprecedented and traumatic time, true leaders can boost morale and best motivate their teams by reminding them of the importance of what they do every day and by expressing their gratitude for that work. Everyone wants to know that what they do matters and that they are part of something bigger and more meaningful to the world. To stave off the apathy and feelings of disconnection that can accompany remote working situations, leaders should communicate why the company exists and what value each employee provides. When we are isolated and trying to work remotely, it’s easy for employees to forget why they do what they do. By articulating our gratitude, we increase employee engagement levels, improve productivity and promote proactiveness.
6. Kevin Gyolai, President of Gyolai Consulting
Leading during a crisis is about standing up and modeling the behavior that will get you through it. Being vulnerable and human while also demonstrating an unflappable resolve and calm. I am focusing my teams on the few things that truly matter to get through this outbreak, which are the same things that determine the success of the company in the best of times. In partnership with my leadership team, I created a roadmap for the next 90 days that aligns our crisis response with our current business priorities. I then I asked my people, “How would you go about accomplishing this?” They have the answers, not me.
7. Shannon DeJong, Founder & CEO of House of Who
I communicate with my remote team via Slack using daily letters – and even more frequently if the news warrants it. These letters include advice on physical, mental and spiritual wellness, not just “work.” It’s all connected. Reassure your team of the security they have with you now, while being realistic about the future. For example, in the branding industry we potentially lag in times like these, so to calm any worries, I let them know it might be a slower in Q2 or Q3, but are well prepared and will fulfill their contracts.
8. Sam Caucci, CEO and Founder of 1Huddle
Most companies have solidified the mindset of switching over to a more remote workforce in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In times like these, investing in more emailing, conference call lines, and webinar platforms are not enough. Companies need to be investing in solutions that prevent digital isolation and use this time to help reinforce organizational priorities in a way that inspires their workforce.
As the CEO of a technology company that uses games to keep workers engaged and prepared, we have seen a greater demand for solutions to help workers that are on-the-go. This means turning to strategies and solutions that allow them to: Rapidly communicate with their team, keep everyone up-to-speed while being fun and interactive, strengthen culture and community even while being remote, educate their team on how to effectively lead and operate under remote work conditions and bring staff together with shared objectives while not all being in the same place Instead of giving up on employees, it is time to lean in and support them while keeping them engaged and connected through the transition using the right tools.
9. Paul Nick, CEO of Guaranteed Returns
When a company experiences something like this, the first thought for many is layoffs. However, good leaders know that their employees are their most important asset. Build and maintain a strong workforce, and together a company can weather any storm. I have worked tirelessly to maintain as much of the workforce as possible and personally know each employee. I maintain a close-knit workforce that is willing to go above and beyond for every client and colleague. When difficult times hit, it’s the foundation, strength and commitment of our employees that allow us to survive.
10. Michael Brody-Waite, CEO and Author
Practice Rigorous Authenticity — Be real with your team and go first by sharing what your fears are during this time, instead of pretending you have it all figured out or have all the answers.
Surrender the Outcome — Exclusively focus on the things you CAN control, such as how you remain in communication with your team and prioritize self-care, versus the things you CAN’T, like the economy.
Do Uncomfortable Work — During times like these, leaders will benefit from leaning into the uncomfortable and emotional work instead of hiding in the “hard work” of their to-do lists and emails.
11. Karla Jo Helms, Chief Evangelist for JoTo PR Disruptors
As CEO of an international agency we piloted and pioneered a remote workforce 5 years ago, so many of the issues our clients and colleagues are presently experiencing, we are not. In times of crisis, a leader has to keep his/her team “in the present,” and that can be very hard to do without major structure and a strict production demand. I have developed a Crisis Org Board, outlining what “hat” each person will wear. Once everyone knows their “crisis role” we then determine what the major production will be for the business and how to go about it. We don’t use the crisis to sit back and wait to be told what to do, we use it to proactively take action and keep our people industrious and helping others. We help the media tell real-time stories with data from our clients, so our purpose is to help get news out to millions of people. Giving our team a strong purpose keeps them in the moment.
12. Chris Hirst, Global CEO of Havas Creative
Wash your hands. No seriously. The most important thing any of us can do right now is break the chain.
Over communicate and be visible. Distance working can quickly become disorienting, your teams will want to see you and feel regular emotional reassurance and get practical direction
Keep a routine and keep everybody busy. The military know this well – whatever is happening their teams are always active: working, doing, thinking, learning, socializing and innovating. A good leader keeps the team on the move (even if virtually)
Being at work isn’t all about work. Working in an office is about more than sitting in meetings: it’s chatting, socializing, pub-quizzes, Pilates, laughing and making friends. Don’t forget to find ways to do some of this remotely – technology makes it easier than ever.
Don’t Panic. Follow the advice on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (if you haven’t read it – it’s perfect for quarantine). Douglas Adam’s prescient 1980’s novel had written on the cover in large, bold type: DON’T PANIC
13. Adrian Gostick, CEO of The Culture Works
In our company, we are ending each day by posting something on our favorite social media channel that we are grateful for— it might a coworker who helped us during the day; maybe it’s the sunrise or our kids or pets; or it could be that a client reached out to ask how we were doing. In times of challenge, keeping our teams motivated and optimistic is more vital than ever. By withholding our gratitude, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot. In stressful times, we are often not conscientious enough of all the many people who are helping us. When we are more aware and more thankful, our teams will be more engaged, focused, and productive.
14. Jayson DeMers, CEO of EmailAnalytics
The most important leadership quality during a time of crisis is transparency. Honesty and truth-telling are hallmarks of transparency, so be honest with your team as you make changes during a time of crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Next, lead by example, and communicate effectively with each member of your team. Communicate how you want your employees to communicate, listen to their concerns, and provide feedback as you steer your team through the crisis. Good leaders maintain transparency and effective communication through times of crisis, and they lead by example.
15. Kevin Crawford, Former Fire Chief In Time of Crisis
Extraordinary leaders need to be the “Comforter and Chief“ to give great hope, and have a steady hand to keep responses appropriate. People tend to allow crisis and hysteria to outpace the emergency; when that is done, you’re in a freefall and the emergency is running you, and you’re not running the emergency. The most important thing for new leaders is clear headedness and accuracy of the emergency. Oftentimes, the cure can be worse than the disease, and CEOs have a responsibility to manage psyche of people around them.
CEOs need to manage people’s emotional wellbeing and psyche during this crisis, in addition to manage the technical aspects of the business. CEOs don’t do a good job of recognizing that they need to be the deep rudder for the humanity in any organization. CEOs need to understand they’re in the business of psychology and they are pseudo sociologists for their organizations. If you want to lead any organization and see it rise to ultimate potential, you must wear that hat. In times of crisis, it’s even more important.
16. Laura Spawn, CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations
In times of crisis, leaders are most effective when they communicate clearly and openly with their teams about the status of business operations, potential effects of the crisis on employee jobs, and any changes in work expectations. Good leaders provide this direction while also understanding the need to support individual employees and their unique circumstances.
Establishing a central method of communication as soon as possible is also vital, as is relaying a message — either through the official capacity of an executive or via managers — that the company is supportive of assisting employees through the crisis and that leaders are doing whatever they can to mitigate its effects on employees.
17. Leeza Hoyt, CEO of The Hoyt Organization
Transparency is the key to communicating with everyone, whether it be employees, customers, shareholders or suppliers. It’s OK to say you don’t know. Currently, no one actually knows exactly what will happen. That said, it’s critical to convey that management is making the best decisions they can, given the information they have at the time. Are you closing? If so, what does that look like? Where can people get services? Will you be setting up an 800 number for questions? Don’t forget to use your website and update it frequently.
As this situation continues, updates should be scheduled regularly, depending on the group. For example, employees may feel more comfortable with a once-a-week communication that serves as a weekly update, after the initial communication has been disseminated. For other audiences, it may be every few weeks – depending on how long the situation lasts, or even once a month. Remember, this too, will eventually pass but setting up these types of communications infrastructure now will serve your company well into the future.
18. Debra Benton, President of Benton Management Resources
Don’t give advice, set an example. Good leadership is always helpful to others without worrying how it affects your job. To thine own self be true. Don’t try to be something you are not, now, compared to your leadership style that has been working. Drastic change in behavior scares people. Be and show confidence because no one will follow you if you don’t have it. Be very mature but mostly very secure. Never fail to smile in person or online. Be honest to establish the true reputation of being honest because leaders do well with truthful information flow (virtual or in person). Let others come up with the good idea with your savvily directed questions. You add, “I hadn’t thought of it that way…is that what you want…” Delegate and trust. Loose every argument you can afford without doing damage to the ship. Remember you are trying build a team here. Winning an argument only does damage. If it turns out good give them ALL the credit. If it turns out bad, take ALL the blame.
19. Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage
A Purposeful Leader must inspire, engage, innovate, achieve, and become. Here’s what I mean by that and how I’m putting these into play at Linkage:
Inspire: At Linkage, our teams are focused on near-term activities that align to our purpose and strategy. We are supporting leaders in critical leadership development programs even as travel and budgets contract. We’re rapidly bringing flexibility in delivery and contracting, so our clients can continue executing critical initiatives to ready their high-potential leaders.
Engage: At Linkage, I recently implemented a dynamic, new process for inter-team collaboration. We convene 18 leaders from every function and business unit multiple times a week to participate in “Special Attention Meetings,” where we share information, identify immediate needs, and work in cross-functional teams to resolve them. Topics covered at these meetings range from employee communication and business continuity plans, to financial impact and product innovation.
Innovate: Our team is currently exploring an alternative digital distribution of our conferences, which will require new capabilities around digital production. We are also accelerating the product release of our digital self-service offerings, with leadership development around effective leadership, advancing women and inclusion, in addition to the online learning opportunities we already offer. We are learning every day, focusing on what works, and staying agile.
Achieve: We realized over a 48-hour period that the external environment had shifted faster than we could respond. We immediately brought visibility to what decisions had to be made by the end of the day and identified who was responsible for them, regardless of reporting structure.
Become: Personally, I am striving to be a role model for my teams and my organization. It requires being calmer and more positive than anyone. It requires standing strong in our plan, until we can develop an even better plan. It requires telling the truth and communicating openly about information and decisions as soon as I can. It requires resilience.
20. Matt Rizzetta, Founder and CEO of North 6th Agency
As a corporate leader, you are representing your brand during a time of extreme uncertainty. Most businesses will be asking their employees to do more with less as they prepare for potential disruption from a crisis like COVID-19. As a leader you should set the right tone and roll up your sleeves; do the little things to show everyone that you’re willing to be just as scrappy as you’re asking anyone else to be. Even larger gestures like committing to a 50% salary reduction until the tides turn show that you are willing to do your part to preserve jobs and minimize fear and uneasiness for staff.
21. Dmytro Okunyev, Founder of Chanty
To keep my team focused during these tough times, I let them know every day that this is a phase and that together, we will pull through. This is a time for solidarity and compassion and I encourage my team to stick together. Everyone is already working from home and we have regular meetings to check up on everyday activities, but more importantly, to check on how they are doing mentally. It’s important to be there and be compassionate, even if it means doing something simple like making a video call.
22. Jamie Thomas, Executive Director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue
The problem with this pandemic is that if people start to panic about having an extra animal in their home and want to dump them, we aren’t structured that way and will really struggle to manage such an influx. Our building was never designed to be a “shelter” for animals to live and we don’t have staff/ volunteers trained to manage that. Many of the volunteers stopped coming as schools closed and they needed to stay home, or as they got sick. Trying to rally these people, or train new ones, will be an exceptional challenge.
I remind people that we are all in the same boat — we have to do MORE now, not less. We need to be there for each other. We will prevail and I will lead them without fear or panic and with the calm and collected demeanor I cherish. If people start freaking out, we will figure it out, but I have faith in the high-quality individuals around me to stay strong. We have amazing people volunteering with us!
If you have any business needs or concerns, feel free to contact Positive Polarity to have a discussion about how we can help your business survive through this difficult time. We are offering phone consultations or virtual meetings for your safety and convenience.
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