I don’t know about you, but these have been a long six weeks. With all my employees working from home (except Sam), it has certainly challenged my leadership skills. Now more than ever, I am so grateful I graduated from the California Agricultural Leadership Program (albeit 20 years ago) and the Cornell University Executive Leadership Program as I believe I gained important skills that I am relying on to guide my company and my team.
While sugar coating things is never very useful from a business perspective, the tone to strike during a crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. It does not matter if you lead a small team of 5 or a large team of 500, we are all facing challenges that are unique to this crisis. With most of our state, country and world sheltering-in- place, this is a rare moment when the entire planet is having a collective shared experience.
Here are some ideas that you may find helpful in adjusting to what everyone is calling a “new” normal as we find ourselves leading from our living rooms, kitchens or home offices.
The first and possibly the most important thing is Self-care. Without your health and well-being, how can you possibly lead effectively? Try hard to not isolate yourself, as that only will increase the stress you are feeling. Take time to read, walk, exercise, meditate, pray, and most importantly connect with others. This is also a great time to learn from leaders of the past, who were also tested during times of crisis. This is an extremely stressful time, there is no denying that. As someone who has definitely been on the verge of tears at times during these trying times, know that you can always call me if you feel the desire to connect with an empathic person.
Try to establish a normal routine. It may not be what you have done in the past, but make your new routine as normal as possible. For me it has been walking to Starbucks in the Taylor Building every day at approximately 10:45 am. If you want to join me (at a distance) give me a call. If you are working from home, resist the urge to say in your PJ’s and get dressed. Especially if you are Zooming or Skyping a lot. Get up every morning with purpose and focus. This will help your team function with determination. The old “lead by example.”
Find new ways to be more open to your team. Having an open-door policy has now shifted to an open-channel strategy. Being available to your team on multiple channels is critical especially for teams that typically don’t engage with technology. For example, in addition to my phone, I am texting, Slacking, and Google Messaging with my team. Consider having open video hours which will allow team members to “drop-in” during designated times. At TMD we have our regular staff meeting on Monday where we review projects and priorities. On Tuesday and Thursday, we have what I have called “welfare check-ins.” During these check-ins we just listen and have compassion for each other. On Friday, we have a virtual “happy hour” at the end of the day.
Fine tune your perspective. One of the byproducts of this crisis and shared experience is people are coming together (philosophically) with greater empathy. Empathizing with each other’s unique set of challenges is so important. It is my hope that if we as a society/industry/business practice empathy well, it will become more commonplace. Let’s admit it, our world was getting a little hard, polarized, and perhaps lacking tolerance. As business leaders it is our responsibility to ensure the health of our people while balancing the health of our enterprises.
At this moment in our collective history, blind optimism is irresponsible, as is heavy negativity. The tone to strike with our teams during the crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. This situation we find ourselves in will greatly change strategies and plans to protect our people and business. It may be hard to see, but there will be silver linings in our present crisis. Perhaps we will see healthier policies, new societal values, new ways of working and a renewed emphasis on innovation. It is most important to be clear, direct and transparent with your team as they ask hard questions about the impact to the business. Remember the best leaders are often forged in fire.
I pray that we will come through this crisis stronger, more resilient and more innovative. I am also hopeful that we will emerge more compassionate and empathic. We can strive to engage with positive energy, lend a helping hand to others who may need it, and ensure that your leadership teams have the information they need to make wise decisions.
A final thought. Support small businesses, we are the backbone of our nation.
Nicholas M. Pasculli