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Four Stories of Leadership During COVID-19

Four Stories of Leadership During COVID-19

Recklessness is not bravery—just as prudence is not fear. The leaders I work with understand this. In them, I don’t see fear—only quiet determination and sagacity.

We exist in a time when people reveal their true character and how they react under pressure. Put another way, this is when we get to see who people really are.

It has been my privilege to get to know those I work with on a deeper and more meaningful level as we navigate the challenges of living and working through the coronavirus crisis. So, what are leaders of character and depth doing to position their organizations for success?

There is no one answer. However, below are four examples of what success can look like in a time of chaos.

Four Real-World Stories of Leading Successfully Through the Uncertainty of COVID-19

Competent Evolution Through Knowledge and Action

Serving the public takes many forms. But for one nonprofit, it means providing an essential service to tens of thousands of low income and senior citizens.

Shutting down was never an option for this organization. As new information and guidance became available daily, the nonprofit continuously adapted its protocols and procedures. Its leaders worked hard to understand the changing landscape so that they could better serve and protect their client base as well as their employees.

They did this through the rapid, continuous education of their leadership team and rigorous development of—and uncompromising adherence to—process. Consequently, the organization continues to provide a critical service to those in need, while keeping all of their stakeholders safe and satisfied.

The approach is clearly working. One frontline employee wrote to one of the organization’s leaders, saying “Just want to let you know your efforts to keep us open and running smoothly during this difficult time is truly praiseworthy and greatly appreciated. Decisions can be tough and unpopular and usually involve trade-offs. Keeping us open has given me the opportunity to continue earning an adult paycheck and I can’t thank you enough.”

Know When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em

Many critical businesses offering key services were unable to slow down as the COVID-19 crisis hit. While it may seem unfathomable to many, the war for talent has actually accelerated in these industries.

This is the situation one company president found himself in when mid-April rolled around and a key employee informed him that he had an offer from a competitor. The easiest path for this leader would have been to counter and retain the employee. Upon reflection, though, he realized that allowing this employee to embrace an opportunity elsewhere also created an opportunity for his organization. The departing employee was excellent at process formulation but not so proficient at process execution—and the company was in desperate need of the latter.

So, with a hearty handshake and best wishes for success, the executive allowed this employee to depart while understanding that a temporary hole in his workforce would enable greater future growth.

While the search for a successor with a different skillset is underway, the president is using this opportunity to identify the gaps in execution. His efforts will better ensure the new person who fills the vacant role has the qualities needed to help propel the organization to even greater success.

A Prior Weakness Becomes a Strength

Immediately before the downturn, shaky accounting practices, rapid growth, and outright CFO incompetence had placed one organization’s future in peril. The path to recovery was far from assured, and the company was struggling in a highly competitive environment with shrinking margins.

However, when the world changed overnight, the business had the infrastructure in place to respond quickly. And it did!

The prior financial pain had spurred the company’s leadership to engage higher-level finance experts. Thus, when new lending programs and more favorable terms became available, they were able to move quickly to recapitalize existing debt obligations and free up working capital. That enabled the purchase of needed equipment at rock-bottom pricing and led to the acquisition of new contracts.

Although the company is not yet out of the woods, its future is now brighter than it seemed at the start of 2020. All because they turned a previous liability into a competitive advantage.

Accelerate Trends to Create New Opportunities

For over 50 years, a Central PA institution grew steadily based on quality craftsmanship and a steadfast dedication to “what worked.” Yet when the crisis hit, the organization had to shut down during the most important business development months of the year.

Its leaders had always relied on person-to-person contact and a sales process that involved getting in front of the customer. Unfortunately, that was no longer an option.

Fortunately, however, for several years, the organization had begun investing in digital marketing and sales. Leadership had never envisioned this as a replacement for in-person methods of business development, but suddenly they were forced to rely on it.

Many organizations might have lamented the changed environment and reluctantly moved into digital, but this company went all-in. Consequently, their March and April sales numbers exceeded their wildest expectations. And, as they prepare to return to work, their pipeline is strong thanks to finding a new way to “make rain.”

The Secret Formula Behind the Success Stories

The examples I’ve shared are only a few of the dozens of stories I’ve seen play out since early March.

I’ve seen leaders:

  • Own past mistakes
  • Gain knowledge
  • Double down on engagement
  • Stretch the natural boundaries of their own empathy
  • Channel grit they didn’t know they had
  • Identify new opportunities
  • Create more flexible mindsets for themselves and their teams
  • Develop a bias toward action

They’ve all done this through quiet determination with none of the chest-thumping bravado that masks recklessness and a disregard for safety.

So, kudos to everyone making responsible choices and figuring out how to “get it done” with grace, humility, and prudence.

If you have a story of quiet determination, I’d love to hear it—and perhaps share it in a future blog post. Chances are, you’re too modest to personally shout it out. Please drop me a line and tell me your tale!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be strong. Lead well.


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