By Darin Crouch

When feeling down, people turn to something that puts them in a positive mood. Some listen to a favorite song. Others do sports. Somebody else may go out and try to have to a good time.

But the kind of down that is now being felt is one that is unheard of in civilized societies. With the Coronavirus rearing its ugly head in almost all parts of the globe, we are in fact fighting for our survival. Not only for our health, but also our financial survival. And to be frank, it does not help when social distancing is not observed, and instructions issued by the authorities are not followed to the letter.

It all sounds very bleak and it does not help when leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel declare the Coronavirus being the “biggest challenge for German solidarity since World War II”. Mentioning the World War II is not only an exaggeration and causes panic, but it is questionable if Germany should even be referencing this.

But on a positive note, Bloomberg Opinion contributor A. Gary Shilling, today gave us a possible glimpse of what to expect when things return to “normal” in his article “A Look at Economies and Markets After Covid-19”.  One of the points made by Shilling is that “the business and education shutdowns due to the virus reveal the waste of much business travel and classroom time.” Shilling continues to state that “consumer caution will linger longer after the coronavirus crisis subsides, much as it did after the 2008 financial crisis”. So it sounds like businesses (and schools) might change the way they do business (and the way education is provided).  In that regards, there is a future to look forward to and there are opportunities up for grabs on the horizon.

As such, we need to focus on the present and we need to focus on how do we get to the future. Because without a company, there will be no future to worry about or to get to.

For business leaders these times are even more straining. Most business leaders also have a family, so they do not only have to be strong for their employees, but also for their families.

In the Harvard Business Review article “How Leaders Can Open Up to Their Teams Without Oversharing” written by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, it is suggested that leaders need to figure themselves out and need to press the pause button when they become emotional. Leaders need to regulate their emotions. It does not help a business if the director is falling apart. Don’t get me wrong, being honest and open fosters trust between the leader and its staff, but nobody is going to follow a leader who does not inspire trust. As Fosslien and Duffy correctly stated:

“The best leaders are honest about how they feel while simultaneously presenting a clear path forward”

I believe that the primary concern on every business leader’s mind, at this point of time, is to keep the business afloat. If this is not on the business leader’s mind, then the business leader needs to be fired.

Atta Tarki, Paul Levy and Jeff Weis, wrote in their March 20 2020 Harvard Business Review article “The Coronavirus Crisis Doesn’t Have to Lead to Layoffs”, that a recent survey found that a vast majority of corporate leaders are considering some sort of financial action as a result of the current pandemic.  The authors further state:

To be sure, a cost-cutting reflex is understandable. Leaders are obligated to make responsible decisions to keep their companies afloat. But those who manage the economic effects of this crisis in a clear and compassionate way create more value for their companies and will come out of this pandemic stronger than ever before.

It is understandable that the first reaction would be to lay-off workers (at this point we will not discuss the legal implications of such a decision and the financial consequences attached to such an action from a labor law perspective). 

So what is the solution to navigate unharmed through this turbulent storm? As business leaders, we must assume that this too will pass. And assuming that this crisis will pass, we must be in a position to be able to be ready to sprint out of the starting box when the starter’s pistol is fired.

The team you have in place, was placed there by you as the business leader. It is that very same team that helped you achieve success. To let go of a member of a winning team in this time of crisis, only to have to put another team together when the crisis has passed does not make any sense at all. And the chances are, that you will rehire the same person you let go. The question you will then need to ask yourself as a business leader is “will this person I fired in the time of crisis, be willing to come back to work for me?”. If the business leader answers this question in the positive, then it is the business leader that needs to be let go as he clearly does not know how to run a business, let alone lead the employees through this time of crisis.

So, the question remains, what is the solution to navigate unharmed through this turbulent storm? The answer, very simply stated, is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. However (and there is always a however), something that a business leader may want to try is to be open and to communicate.  

As a business leader, you are fooling yourself if you think that your employees do not realize that the uncertainty cannot be financed by the business forever. You need to give your employees more credit than that.  

As Amy George puts it in her article “6 Ways You Can Show True Leadership During a Crisis” published in business magazine Inc., communication needs to be transparent and frequent. Anything that is communicated needs to furthermore communicate a solution.

If you are to make sacrifices, do this as a group. You were together during the good times and you need to stick it out during the bad times as well.  And maybe one of the sacrifices is for everybody to take a pay cut.

As a business leader it is impossible to come up with all the right solutions. You are leading a winning team. Treat them with the necessary respect and ask them for their input and opinion as well. This is also the time to think out of the box. We are dealing with an unconventional problem and need to have unconventional solutions. This will also mean that you will have to anticipate what is going to happen.

As Tarki, Levy and Weis wrote in their article, as a business leader, you cannot be cool to the needs of your staff. Your staff is looking to you for reassurances in these uncertain times. You need to show empathy, rather than maintaining emotional distance from your people.

And more importantly, you need to be there for your staff. You cannot expect your staff to do something, if you as a business leader will not do the same. This is the time to demonstrate the values of the business, so that together you come out stronger.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on April 26, 2019 written by Steven Rosenbush with the title “What Your CEO Is Reading: Who Is the True Leader of the NFL Franchise?”. To settle the debate about who is responsible for a NFL team’s success, data was compiled going back 38 years that included wins and losses for each team. It was found that the coach, quarterback, general manager and owner accounted for 68% of the variance in performance. Owners accounted for 11% of the variance, followed by the general manager (22%), coaches (29%) and quarterbacks (37%). Who wins? The quarterback. So in this crisis, be the quarterback and make the winning plays.

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