Relationship Economics looks at the world of quantifiable and strategic business relationships--and their applications in our daily lives.

During this period of self-imposed quarantine with our families, I'm reading a lot--from scholarly work on social isolation to unique ideas and perspectives on fear, hope, and resilience. What fascinates me most are stories of frontline leadership. Not someone who is regurgitating reports, but those who are practicing it daily--amidst the uncertainty of it all.

Here are five specific, yet simple things, your business relationships need most from you to weather any economic storm and increase the chances of your business emerging stronger than ever on the other side.

1. Amplify the guardrails. 

Andy Stanley, our pastor at Buckhead Church, had a fantastic series a couple of years ago on this idea of guardrails for your life. Back when things were normal, your employees made countless decisions in your business every day. Amid this storm of uncertainty, decision-making needs more guidance--brighter guardrails--throughout the organization. Be crystal clear on the direction your business is headed and the destination, as well as how you'll get there together. And if you want it to be remembered, it needs to be heard seven times. That's not repetition. it's reinforcement.

2. Trust, track, then get out of the way. 

Did you know "command and control" is a military term? Similar to many current organizational structures, they're byproducts of World War I. But they're not the answer amid this storm of uncertainty. Centralized direction and guidance, yes you need to deliver that. Decentralized decisions and actions on the frontline of where your business sees opportunities, creates value, and responds to needs--unequivocally, yes you need that, too.

Your relationships on the ground, your team of employees, know the context of your business. They know your customers, the community in which they live, the nuances of the culture in that location, geography, market, or population. And, most importantly, they know how difficult the situation is and what's needed most.

Empower others by relinquishing control but also providing more guidance, resources, and support. Then, get out of the way.

3. Be the most authentic you.  

When you share emotional and personal messages of struggles and hope, challenges and opportunities, you become human as a leader in your relationships. You become real and not scripted. The people you have business relationships with, including your team, need to see who you are, what you believe, your values, and what matters most to you. You are your organization's chief storyteller, and only when the story is authentic and relatable will you gain their trust and be the glue that keeps your organization together.

4. People's health and safety first--and always.

If you've ever charged a hill, like launching that new blockbuster product, or line of service, you know there is nothing more disheartening than to get halfway up the hill and realize no one is following you. 

It's challenging for any of your relationships to hear you, much less support you, if their family's welfare or their own is unstable. Empathy creates an emotional connection. Your emotional courage, giving yourself and others permission to feel everything, is what your relationships need--and not through an email. Empathy is about meeting others where they are and understanding what matters to them as much as what matters to you and your business.

5. Be the lighthouse.

Maya Angelou once said: "Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one to stay." Your role as the leader is to show your team the opportunities amid the uncertainty. And then lead them there. If you're shutting down, how can you prepare for the other side of this storm? Look for what's possible, and how you can plan for it now. If you believe in your relationships, and make sure they feel your belief, it's amazing what walls they'll break through to make sure they never let you down.

Your relationships, both within and outside your business, are an incredible source of knowledge. A CEO client recently reminded me this is the fourth time his leadership has gone through massive storms: 1989 brought the Friday the 13 market crash, 2001 was the tech market meltdown, 2008 we saw the Great Recession, and now the Coronavirus. My client recovered from each through determination and creative, scrappy ideas.

It's important to remember that most innovations--from AI to autonomous cars to drones--come from a group of relationships focused on the same challenge but from very different perspectives.

Your relationships, within your organization and outside of it, are your only sustainable differentiation. Lead them to the other side of this storm of uncertainty. One thing I can promise: it'll make those bonds dramatically stronger.

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Published on: Mar 26, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.