Leaders are planners. They’re visionaries, strategists, and big-picture thinkers. You’d be hard-pressed to meet a business owner who didn’t pride themselves on how adaptable they are to new situations, whatever may lie ahead.
But running a business is difficult, and anyone brave enough to take on that challenge better is ready for some tough times. For every leader, it’s only a matter of time until your business, your employees, and the economy will test you. And as much as you try to expect the unexpected, you won’t know how you’ll react to a crisis until you’re in it.
As the arms of the coronavirus have spread across the entire nation, millions of Americans now face unemployment. The total number of workers who have filed for unemployment since late March has surpassed 26 million. Many businesses have been forced to close their doors – some temporarily and others for good. Some continue to face hardships, like loss of sales (many reports they’ve experienced a 42% decrease in sales), layoffs, reduced efficiencies, and severely restricted budgets.
“I think the responsibility of the CEO is to make sure that there is a safe environment that people are comfortable to work in. We need to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of our fellow team members while working on plans and opportunities to thrive in the future. The message is that there will be a post-COVID-19 world that we will be successful in,” says Jeff Slaboden, President and CEO of Smith & Vandiver Corp.
In the midst of normalcy, leadership can appear to be rather straightforward. But one bad day, week, month, or year can ruin all of that. During a crisis, one thing is true: the best leaders will rise to the occasion. Let’s look at ways leaders are managing to shine during a crisis.
No Matter How Grim, Keep A Positive Mindset
A positive mindset is powerful. It’s what keeps a leader grounded, focused, and impassioned. It’s not something that can be faked, which is the tried-and-true difference between someone who can act effectively during a crisis and someone who can’t. But before taking any action, it’s important for business leaders to step back and reflect on the uncertainty and impact of the situation in order to put everything into perspective.
“Driving high performance and expressing concern for your team should not be mutually exclusive, particularly during hard times. In fact, effective leaders are those who are able to motivate employees to perform their best while continuing to foster healthy workplace cultures. These are leaders who are responsive to their team’s needs, understand and fulfill their role in facilitating their team’s work and leverage their team’s strengths,” said FIU expert Valentina Bruk-Lee.
“During a crisis, it’s irresponsible to think everyone won’t be impacted — even you,” says Lauren Irwin-Szostak, CEO of Business Processes Redefined, a management consulting company. “As business owners, we need to harness that fear, flip it on its head, and approach the situation with an empowered, positive mindset if we want to get anything done.”
“Leaders don’t have any other choice, really,” she adds. “If you succumb to overwhelming feelings of fear or doubt, you’re paralyzed. And when you’re paralyzed, you can’t protect your employees. Worrying about them is what keeps me up at night.”
“We need to take whatever is handed to us, the things we can’t control, and do whatever we can to make it out on the other side,” adds Irwin-Szostak.
Nothing is business as usual during a time of intense difficulty. Conducting your operations as you had before won’t save you from an unprecedented challenge. Business owners must be able to think on their feet and forge a new path forward.
“It’s important to not to be afraid of making an unpopular decision if that’s what the current environment requires – and you are the only one that intimately knows your business and market positioning,” says Marie Berry, CEO & Co-Founder of Kara, a marketing production platform.
Take TravelPerk, for example. This travel startup should be hit hard by the coronavirus, but it is still gaining traction from its customer base. Although its business is currently down over 50%, TravelPerk is experiencing an increase in bookings thanks to their new product FlexiPerk, which allows users to change or cancel their travel plans at any time with a 80% refund. With this peace of mind, more travelers are signing up and booking well into the future, even in the face of uncertainty.
The smallest things can make the biggest difference.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
When facing a difficult situation, it’s easy to want to build a wall to protect yourself from danger. Watching other businesses in your industry take a hit because of COVID-19 is hard, especially because you don’t want to suffer the same fate.
It may seem unnatural to want to unite with your competitors when you’re both fighting for your businesses to stay afloat, but collaboration and guidance are more necessary now than ever. Reach out to other business owners to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Share your successes and ideas. A crisis should bring us together, not divide us.
I am a documentary filmmaker and the CEO of Studio 15, a socially responsible fashion brand. After leaving behind a 15-year career in the corporate fashion world, I started a company that focuses on doing good and supporting women. It’s Studio 15’s mission to promote and collaborate with other female-owned businesses and to support female entrepreneurs in developing countries through a partnership with Kleos MFG, a non-profit organization