With the Covid-19 Coronavirus now in full Pandemic mode, leaders at every level, from political leaders to titans of industry, to small business leaders, to town councils and emergency management planners, all eyes are on you. In times of crisis, people look for someone to follow. In times of crisis, people look around for the person who keeps his head when all the rest are losing theirs. That is the woman or man they will naturally gravitate towards.
By now, even the most ardent skeptic has realized that this pandemic is real. Some are still shaking their heads and saying that it isn’t any worse than the flu, but even they see that everyone has now come on board accepting the situation for what it is. And it is still some time from peaking. So what can you do? What must you do?
First, acknowledge the situation and how it impacts the people that you lead. Set aside any personal feelings about what you think cause this pandemic or how it might have been handled. That is old news and now irrelevant. What is relevant is that you face how this will affect your business and your people. So far this pandemic has followed a very predictable script. Yes, a very predictable script. As we move forward, that predictability will have some variance depending on your region and industry segment, but it will still be largely predicable.
Second, Tell your people you understand that they are concerned about their families, coworkers and their jobs. If you have bad news about what might be necessary down the road, share it early instead of popping it on people last minute. If you’re in e field where you rely on public gathering, like a restaurant or festival of some kind, get out in front and explain to your people how it will affect them. They may not be happy, but they will appreciate your honesty.
Next, put a team together of your key leaders. Think carefully about bringing in people a couple levels down that have insight into daily operations that you wouldn’t bring in normally for corporate vision or strategy sessions. This crisis is about today and now. Your ops managers will have a handle on your suppliers and vendors and will be key to your strategy going forward.
Take into account your labor situation given that your workers’ kids will be at home from school. You have to take into account that people will be happy for their jobs, but will struggle leaving little ones home alone. You can’t bring them in to work for the same reasons that they’re being sent home in the first place. You will likely have to limit the number of people you have in one place anyway. So consider if there’s a way you can reassure your people and offer them some solutions like perhaps rotate workers off days so that the one who is off might watch several kids together. While each situation will be different, each will have reasonable options like this that can work.
If you are in a business where you must quarantine to prevent the illness from entering, say in an assisted living facility, you must think through the number of people you need to run your facility and how you will house them, because if you quarantine the elderly but allow staff to come and go, you are effectively allowing vectors for contamination in and out every day. And you could be legally liable for that because reasonable precautions require you to keep everyone in there separate. So you must think through how you house the staff that will be quarantined with the elderly in your care, how you will accept deliveries, and who among your workers can handle such a quarantine themselves, as well as the number of additional workers you’ll need so that everyone can take a rest occasionally. That is how you will be remembered.
If you are in a job that is important to your community, like a plant manager of a major community employer or a base commander, or store manager of a large retailer, or college president, get out and coordinate with the mayor, the county commission and even the state emergency management office. Your responsibility to the community doesn’t stop at your gate or front door. You have something to bring to the discussion that is certainly taking place downtown and you certainly need them as well. This is the time to offer leadership as well as support to other leaders. You cannot make it through this time remaining aloof and merely focusing on your own enterprise. That is how you will be remembered.
Most importantly, you must convey to all your people that this is a historic event, that it is one which affects all people, that everyone’s loved ones are affected equally, and that your organization or business can only make it through with everyone working together for something larger than themselves. Give your people a sense of purpose and a mission. Tell them that nobody on the board of corporate office will be treated any differently than the line worker when it comes to testing, leave policy or time to care for their families. Show them that you are every bit as concerned for their families as your own. That is how you will be remembered.