The past four months have been different than anything I have ever encountered in my life as a business leader. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was at a total loss for many days, weeks and even months. I chose to focus on two things: my company and my three kids. I have had bouts of sadness, I have cried and I have hidden from friends. I have also made sure to show up for my team.
I spent more time alone than I ever have this year, and while I usually like alone time, these months have been challenging. I realize now there are things that I've learned about leadership through the whole experience, and those lessons are ones worth sharing. As a business leader and 12-time Inc. 5000 honoree, here are things I have done, things I wished I had done and things I hope to do.
Hold daily town halls.
Yes, daily. Until the end of May, I ran a Zoom town hall for all 200 some employees at my company. Some townhalls lasted less than five minutes, others lasted 30. Some were compassionate, others a kick in the butt to get things done. Some educational, others a comedy skit.
The meetings remind everyone that we're in this together. Even if your employees can't be in the same room together, at least this way there's a daily interaction where everyone can see eachother.
Allow people the sense of true honesty and empathy.
Even for those who like work-from-home, it's still difficult to be worried about losing your job, sad for friends and family who lost theirs, or not having a home office set up with furniture and multiple monitors. I encouraged people to say, "this sucks." Let's get it out there and move on, rather than act like we have to pretend.
Be the captain of your ship.
In every story about sailors, the captain takes care of their crew and passengers. It should be the same in business. The first thing I did before quarantine started, when it began to look bad in early March, was eliminate my paycheck. I didn't know if we would have to reduce salaries or do a reduction of head count, but I wanted everyone to know, I would feel pain before they would. Business is down 12 percent year-over-year and more than 20 percent from Q1. So, yes, I haven't paid myself from March to present day.
Utilize Teams and Zoom for all staff, not just clients and direct reports.
I have made an effort to video with staff-- even those at entry-level-- out of the blue. It makes it easier for any executive to say hi to staff, who they may not otherwise see. "How are you?" may be the three most powerful words a CEO can ask to an employee during this time.
Realize people are scared.
It's important to ask questions before sharing your thoughts as not to influence or intimidate, albeit unintentionally. Everyone doesn't view this pandemic the same way. Some are scared; others are not, and many are in the middle. You need to talk to all of them and offer support where necessary.
Realize your role has changed.
Being a "war time" CEO is very different than a bull market CEO. It's like the difference between being a startup CEO versus running an established company.
Timetables are shorter now. Evaluating the quality of a team member needs to be done faster. Client deliverables need to be shortened. Negotiations need to be better and more efficient. Everyone needs to be held more accountable.
There are so many more lessons, I could go on forever. However, one thing is certain: This is a crazy, crazy time for your business; Balancing kids and school reentry or non-reentry, growing your business and onboarding new people virtually. It's hard and challenging, but it's doable. There is market share to take no matter the industry. Be compassionate. Be aggressive. And, while you're doing what you do best, don't forget your people need you now more than ever.