Leadership during COVID-19 and beyond

Leadership during COVID-19 and beyond

The way you lead in a crisis can define you for the rest of your business career.

April 1, 2020

I went through three different challenging times like this in my 40 plus years in business albeit nothing quite like what current CEO’s are dealing with.

My advice below may take a little more of a philosophical tone as opposed to just straight business strategy advice.

The most important advice I can share with any leader is to reflect on these challenges and instead of looking at the negatives of the situation, be grateful for the opportunity that is presented to you as a leader. That’s right, I said be grateful. Easier said than done but think about it…this is your chance to shine and what you do today and in the next few weeks will set the tone for the rest of your business career.

Sadly, I think business leaders of both small and large organizations have to accept the fact that their company will likely not make money this year and in fact they likely might not even be able to pay themselves a salary. That’s okay for many of you. Anyone with “ wisdom” knows money does not buy happiness and hopefully this is a short-term problem.

What will make you happy at the end of this challenge and frankly at the end of your journey as a leader is how your team viewed you both now and in the future. That perception is critically important now more than ever. Don’t underestimate the platform for doing good that you have as a leader.

With the possible exception of teachers and preachers, the platform our business leaders have for being a positive role model and as one of my mentors used to say, “leaving the world a little better than you found it” has few peers. Take advantage of it.

To that end, taking care of your most vulnerable employees who have taken care of you over the years is paramount. One suggestion would be creating a disaster relief fund comprised of first and foremost what you pay yourself and any expected profits, if any, you anticipate.

Prepare a personal budget and look at what you have in liquidity and how long you can survive on your savings without being paid. That relief fund could go to any number of initiatives you could create that benefit your people.

Consider deferring your salary or reduce it to what it would take to pay your personal obligations. After you do that, ask any other senior executives on the team to consider the same. The message this will send to your entire organization cannot be overstated. If you can, subtly share this with your customers in any pro-active correspondence you send out. Imagine the goodwill that will be created with them. Talk about creating customers for life.

The legislation congress has passed is extremely generous but it may be overwhelming for some of your employees to navigate and understand the benefits they can receive. I’d suggest an extensive educational and compassionate off boarding process to help your people understand their options. The goodwill created by this approach will position you well for future success when it’s time to ramp back up and you are ready to rehire your old team.

These are just a couple of simple things leaders can do, but they are arguably the most impactful. However, the challenges you all face at this time cannot be solved with just these simple concepts.

For industry specific advice, reach out to your national or state industry trade association and to peers in your industry to discuss strategies specific to your type of business. I’m a big believer in assimilating industry “best practices” and implementing those that make sense for your organization.

My suggestion is to not “try and reinvent the wheel.” Work with others who have been through a similar crisis, who have been or are currently in your line of work. Industry trade associations have incredibly valuable resources at any time while leading a business and will be especially helpful now.

Let me leave you with this. My two favorite quotes of all time that I regularly used in my 40 plus year business career are these: "Problems are opportunities in disguise" and “Let’s turn lemons into lemonade.”

It bears repeating, you have an opportunity of epic proportions. How you respond: the love, the compassion, the generosity and the care you exhibit towards your people and customers will likely define you for the rest of your business career and frankly, given the unique platform you have, may define your whole life.

So let this philosophy be yours and your team’s mantra: Let’s go out there tomorrow and begin turning those lemons into lemonade.

Don’t ever forget that powerful platform you have as CEO and make your business be a force for good.

The author has owned two landscape services companies, is a past president of the National Association of Landscape Professionals and is the Founder Emeritus of the TCU Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.