It's hard to be a leader in the best of times, and the Covid-19 pandemic crisis has created an entirely new set of challenges. In the Q2 2020 Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey, a survey conducted by my own company, we asked our community of small- and midsize-business leaders what their most significant leadership challenges are today.
In my company's analysis of their nearly 900 open-ended responses, we found four common challenges, along with approaches to overcoming them and continuing the journey toward recovery.
The most common theme shared by CEOs was maintaining and building morale with their leadership teams and employees. It has been a highly stressful six months, which is now compounded as the number of Covid-19 cases rises across the country. This, coupled with increasing uncertainty around timing of the recovery, is raising the fear factor for everyone. Burnout is becoming a real threat, and leaders will continue to be challenged to motivate a diverse workforce struggling with multiple stressors and the pressure to perform.
Leaders need to encourage their people to take a break away from work when they need one--even if they aren't going away for their typical summer vacation. This is going to be increasingly important for maintaining morale over the next few months as we continue to limp toward recovery. Going forward, your priorities should include keeping employees focused and positive, avoiding executive burnout, and inspiring the organization despite continued uncertainty.
2. Workspace concerns
The pandemic has changed what we consider the workplace. CEOs are grappling with not only when to return to the office but also how to do it. You're likely challenged to redesign the workplace with physical health and safety as top priorities. For those workers who are willing to return to the workplace, creating a feeling of safety is vital. But the challenge is well beyond physical workspace.
Even after Covid-19 is under control, there will likely be more people who will look for and change jobs specifically to have the ability to work from home. Working remotely will no longer be a benefit but a requirement for a certain percentage of the workforce. You'll have to define how a hybrid model will work best for your organization.
Driving and sustaining growth is especially difficult to achieve in this environment. To reboot growth, leaders have to really understand the status of their market and the change in buyer needs, wants, and behaviors based on the level of devastation they've experienced.
At the same time, leaders need to continue to innovate and transform to meet new needs. Almost half (48 percent) of Vistage members surveyed have created new products and services during this time. About half of those innovations are going to be permanent offerings going forward.
Creating new demand, reengaging with customers, and rebuilding opportunity pipelines are all prerequisites to increasing business volume. Quickly adjusting to changing customer behaviors and shaping messages that connect to their new reality will be essential in accelerating growth.
Undercutting everything is the overwhelming uncertainty about the length of the pandemic, the direction of the economy, and the unknown impact to the markets. Forecasting has become far less predictable as pre-Covid financial models have lost relevance.
To make decisions now, leaders must rely on the information that is available at the time. They are increasingly relying on instinct--how they feel about an issue--and judgment--the combination of experience, knowledge, and what they've learned, seen, and think. Leaders need to also pull in perspectives of people and resources they trust and respect, such as a tax or financial adviser, other CEOs, and research from credible and objective sources.
The key is to seek multiple perspectives, add them to instinct and judgment, and then make the best possible decision. Be prepared, however, to admit you are wrong in a nanosecond and quickly pivot to what the information, the data, and your instincts tell you is a better path. And prepare for that path to change again and again.
The amount of energy, innovation, and focus that is required to overcome all of the challenges leaders are facing and then move toward recovery will continue to be enormous. Leaders may feel like their companies are taking one step forward and then two steps back. The key, however, is that you don't stop. You keep moving ahead.