How will history remember you in this moment?
We are in a season that will define a decade, if not a generation. Many have lost economically; many have lost their lives. And at this moment, the path toward recovery is unclear.
When we look backward at this crisis, leaders and their actions will be evaluated, and some will stand apart. In this moment that is largely defined by our isolation, are you taking the right steps today to write your chapter in history? What will the people closest to you say about your actions? What will your family, your employees, your customers, and your investors say?
Over the past several weeks, I have talked with leaders and found three basic approaches to this crisis, broadly speaking:
- Some have downplayed the health and economic issues we are facing. Their views are seen as tone deaf at best and reckless at worst by many in the community.
- Some are overwhelmed. These people are consuming media and data far more than their peers. Their approaches have ranged from highly reactive to “wait and see.” In any case, the leadership vacuum they cause in their organizations is painful to watch.
- Some have approached the storm with calm. These leaders have acknowledged the gaps in information and, having deliberated with their staff, aligned the actions of their organization. They are remaining adaptable in service to—and staying connected to—their teams, clients, and partners.
As business leaders, we can find countless articles and resources about what steps to take in this crisis. But as you craft and execute the plan for your business, it’s critical to remember that when the crisis fades, people will remain.
As we slowly return to a changed world, we must remain vigilant in our connections to those around us. If we want to navigate these choppy waters, we must do it together. How you connect with people as a leader in this moment will create the feelings that remain. Above all, people will remember how you made them feel.
Here are the steps I recommend for remaining connected during crisis:
- Connect with yourself. Manage your own anxieties. You will reduce your anxiety (at least some) by simply writing out a list of your anxieties. You can then decide which issues require your action and attention and which issues need to wait. It is important to remember what you control, what you influence, and what you cannot control or influence. Hint: The primary things you can control are your thoughts and your actions. Spend most of your time on those two!
- Connect with your leaders. In speaking with your leadership team—whether in writing, phone, or videoconference—be decisive, clear, and adaptable. People need to hear from you consistently, and they need an aligned and action-oriented plan. Once the plan is determined, they should be able to speak with you to the rest of the organization as one voice.
- Connect appropriately. Think through the perspective of the listener before you communicate. Transparency on the facts of the business is important. But transparency on your personal opinions, and on unfiltered debate among the leadership team, is not appropriate in the moment. The time will come to share those after the crisis has passed. It’s also appropriate to overcommunicate in times like this. Heightened emotions can cause miscommunication, so be willing to restate the plan and core message with some patience for people who are understandably out of sorts. You can be both graceful and firm in communicating—if your emotions are in check. Remember that what you say with 1 unit of intensity is felt by your people as 10 units of intensity if they work closely with you, 100 units if they do not.
- Connect with your support. This is not the time to stand alone. Be sure to connect with your support network as needed throughout the crisis. A group of friends, mentors, and peers are invaluable to surviving and thriving in these situations. If you find yourself lacking this group, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get you connected.
- Connect as a human. It is easy for business leaders to focus solely on the problem and to forget the humanity of the situation. This is particularly ironic when the crisis is, in part, health related. Be good to your family, and remember that others have personal and familial concerns, just as you have yours.
The world is shifting. There will be a great cost, but this inflection point in history will also create opportunity. At the very least, we have an opportunity to reflect on what is truly important to us, and at best we can find new opportunities to engage in the world.
Action may get us through this moment, but relationships are necessary for the long term. Model the behavior you want. You must take up the mantle of leadership and act as you want people to act, knowing that what you do will be amplified by your team.