Lessons learned from the pandemic
The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic has tested our leadership abilities, the strength of our companies, and mental fortitude. While we can draw similarities to previous crises – like the 2008 financial crisis or Great Depression – to try to determine a best course of action, uncertainty remains.
To help leaders who might be struggling, leadership guru – and my friend – John Spence reached out to several CEOs to get their insights on how to weather this storm. Spence asked leaders two questions and then grouped common responses. Here's what he found:
What are your three biggest learnings from the pandemic so far?
- People: In crises like this, people are what matter. We all want to do right by our families, employees, and members/customers to ensure their safety and health. At the start of the pandemic, I stressed the importance of leading with humanity to acknowledge employees' concerns and provide the emotional support they need during this time. The CEOs surveyed by Spence agree – "empathy and compassion are potentially the most important traits of a leader," one said. They also reiterated the importance of a strong office culture and collaboration to keep everyone working toward the same vision.
- Flexibility: Successful businesses are able adapt to members'/customers' changing needs, new technologies, and opportunities. The coronavirus pandemic has brought all of this to light as we implement telework policies, review our business models to ensure our products/services are fulfilling market needs, and plan for the future. I recently participated in a town hall with a couple credit union CEOs and one astutely characterized the pandemic as an "accelerant" for businesses and consumers to adopt new ways of doing things.
- Financial: Running a fiscally sound business should always be a priority for leaders. Spence's survey echoed this and reminded other leaders to have diversified balance sheets – we should never rely too heavily on one profit area because, as the pandemic has shown us, it could be wiped out. For both personal and business finances, financial crises exacerbate problems caused by debt.
What are the three pieces of advice you would give to the leader of another organization?
- Communication: Strong communication is the foundation of any great leader. Just because we're not seeing our employees in person doesn't mean we shouldn't still be talking like normal. The surveyed CEOs recommend staying focused on the value your organization provides and communicating that. Now isn't the time to step out of your lane, but rather double down on your messaging and vision. Find the communication channels that reach your audience and convey your message appropriately.
- Plan: It's important for all businesses to have continuity plans should a crisis arise – whether it's an internet outage, natural disaster, or health pandemic. It's critical to invest in resources before something hits so you are ready to put the plan in action with limited interruptions. Again, adaptability and communication are key. It also helps to get input from other executives, employees, and members/customers so you know exactly what they will need and expect.
- Leadership: Great leaders prove themselves during difficult times. We set the tone and example for our employees to follow – so if we're negative and stressed out, it's going to put our employees on edge, too. There's a lot going on right now, but the CEOs agree: Don't forget to take care of yourself and make sure you're staying physically and mentally healthy. Here are a couple recent blogs that will help you stay focused and lead the right way.
There's no magic formula to get through a crisis; however, there are components leaders can prioritize that will put you in a strong position to weather the storm. These insights from CEOs will help you do just that.
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