You may be the leader of a large organization, the executive director of a nonprofit, the manager of a team, the owner of a business with a few staff, or the sole proprietor of a small business. It does not matter how many people directly report to you. At this time, we are all called to be leaders. What does that mean?
1 – Be the calm in the storm. One of my clients is the Executive Director of a large retirement community. After describing the extensive plan she’d developed to protect all residents and staff from the virus, she said, “You want me in a crisis, because when everyone gets upset I get calm.” She shared her process: “I make my lists and methodically take care of each item as calmly as possible. I think through what could go wrong, and take steps to eliminate every problem as best as I can.”
2 – Make tough decisions. Confronted with the prospect of several months of delayed revenue, managers, business owners and CEO’s everywhere face tough decisions. One CEO told me she’d asked her CFO for a cash projection for the year. To her surprise, she found out that her organization had more cash on hand than she’d originally thought. Because money will be coming in, she does not have to let people go. Another CEO conducted the same kind of financial analysis for her organization with less favorable results. She is preparing to lay staff off.
3 – Be the positive voice, and at the same time be realistic. It is time to be transparent. I know you’re thinking that the term transparent has been overused. Transparent simply means tell the truth. If you know that your company or department or organization must take difficult steps like letting staff go, communicate that clearly. Describe the problem and what you are doing about it: “We may have to let some people go. We may lose business. But we are looking to secure financing.” Tell them the truth. Tell them you are doing all you can – then deliver on your promise; they are watching.
4 – Care about your people like you have never cared before. I had a client ask, “How are you doing?” I said, “Fine.” She said, “No. Tell me how you are really doing.” That individual showed true concern for my well-being. Take the lead in this area, and express true interest in your staff’s physical, mental and emotional state. I have another client who is holding a virtual happy hour for her employees every day at 6:00 pm – participation not required. If you manage people who are considered essential workers, give them food, drinks, cash – whatever they need. And be sure to take care of their families.
5 – Look for creative ways to give. This is not a time to look for business. It will come if you show and believe we are all in this together. Think Give not Get. Can your company retool and make masks or hospital gowns for medial staff? Can you put your services online? Shaun the co-owner of Seagull Hair salon here in NYC, is putting up tutorials on how to cut your bangs, touch up your roots and trim your beard at home. Think out of the box: How can you keep your clients be engaged without any expectations? When you return to work, your clients will return to you because they received from you.
6 – Make sacrifices. This is a time when you may have to ask staff to take pay cuts. Those pay cuts should not exclude you. You may have staff that are home schooling while their partner is an essential worker. You might want to take on some of their work to lighten their load.
Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.
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