Remember what it was like to be a business leader before our global pandemic?
You knew the purpose of your company. You had focus and clarity of vision, and a good sense of direction. You built businesses, understood how to be flexible but firm, and thought you had seen it all. You insisted on accountability and understood that great products take time, so you were willing to move at the pace of excellence, no matter how slow or fast, to ensure things were done right. And you were not afraid of hard work. Guided by integrity and great ethics, you insisted on doing what was right always, even under immensely challenging circumstances.
Communication was paramount. You took extra time to communicate strategic priorities and goals to stakeholders, shareholders, employees, customers, and partners, ensuring everyone understood what direction you were heading. Of course, you were wise enough to know that you sometimes had blind spots, and had the humility to seek guidance. Never did you believe in hype. You had an ear for authenticity, and you knew when to be bullish and when to be bearish.
People were paramount. Your teams gave your tenure tenacity. You invested in people, nurtured their talent, and created motivated high performers who knew how to listen, drop their egos, and collaborate, rowing as one toward a common goal. You inspired your teams to explore outside their comfort zone, grow exponentially, and encourage one another to level up. And you not only championed ideas, but celebrated their execution. The culture of innovation you created by putting people first ensured that you delivered on your product experience, and that your products and brand were aligned.
THEN, the UNTHINKABLE happened. COVID-19 shook nations, industries and institutions to their core. Life and work as we once knew them were abruptly altered with excruciating thoroughness. We’ve watched businesses and industries collapse globally under this viral assault to our personal and public sectors. And leaders are scrambling to assess, to salvage, and to soldier on. Now, more than ever, leaders are expected and MUST deliver, navigating under extreme pressure and unpredictability. Leadership under COVID requires all the skills of the pre-pandemic world, but at an exponential level and with some essential additions:
Empathy and compassion are critical for steering companies through this uncharted and decidedly difficult and surreal time.
Foster inclusiveness. Make sure people are able to express themselves freely in a safe environment, and that they are heard.
Reimagine and be adaptive to a remote working environment to keep teams safe as well as productive.
Be acutely aware and understanding of employees’ mental and physical health, grief and anxieties. Stay positive and encouraging, responsive and helpful.
Shift strategic priorities as necessary, and communicate clearly, honestly and often with shareholders, teams, employees, customers and partners.
Remain firm in values and resist being pressured into hasty and potentially regrettable decisions on hiring, firing, downsizing, cutting costs, increasing spending, etc.
Instill trust by communicating openly and honestly, revealing a level of vulnerability and transparency.
Remember that while big, hard decisions are expected, small critical ones that could be overlooked might actually have long-term, strategic impact. Fine tune, vet and anticipate the future.
Recognize that we are all in this together. Make that awareness a platform for moving forward. Empower other leaders. In times of crisis and uncertainty, release concern about who is getting ahead. Helping one, helps all.
Stay curious, flexible, and make tough calls, even when such decisions are unpopular.
Gather your resolve, roll up your sleeves, and do the HARD WORK. Put aside all thought about what is beneath you. DO THE REAL WORK…DO IT ALL…AGAIN. RINSE AND REPEAT.
When we finally emerge from this nightmare scenario, we can count on NOT going back to business as we once knew it. These pandemic months (and maybe years) have called us to reach into our innermost reserves, innovate instantly, and create new ways of being and doing. Remote work is here to stay for many. Business trips may also log steps and not frequent flyer miles as executives choose virtual technology to convene meetings and conferences. Appreciation of people, those we serve, and those with whom we partner, collaborate, and execute our company goals and vision, will be a priority value. And we will be excited, driven, and crazy busy retooling cities, reshaping landscapes, re-envisioning societies, and respecting/uplifting cultures. This downtime, this global pause, has given us time to gather our collective breath. It has revealed to us our great need to impact our world more gently, be more respectful of resources, and be conscious of how each one of us is part of a unified whole. New ways of doing and being are long overdue. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get informed, inspired, innovative, and passionately positive and productive. Our future depends on us.