Leading Through Adversity

A global pandemic with COVID-19. A global economic shutdown. An oil price war. Lives lost and threatened. And that is just the first 75 days of 2020. To say we are in a world of uncertainty right now would be a gross understatement. And, it will get worse before it gets better. That’s the bad news.

The good news is we have seen uncertainty before, we have recovered from health issues, global threats and economic free-falls, and we can recover from this one. But it takes stability, focus and proactivity from leadership vs. becoming caught up in short term hysteria and reactionary behavior.

I’m linking an article about Samsonite CEO Kyle Gendreau, https://chiefexecutive.net/pandemic-panic-not-this-ceo/, who reminds us of one of the most important roles of a leader…stability and focus during adversity. Mr. Gendreau and his organization are dealing with the impact of global travel restrictions, so core to his business. But he’s seen difficult times before, and is keeping focused on the long-term business that he and his organization are building. He also understands the importance of personal connection during these times.

Leaders who have been through turbulent times and have weathered adversity understand how important stability, focus and empathy are during such situations. Equally important is not allowing hysteria and panic to derail or undermine the effectiveness of an organization. It’s true in the military and in business. Having led businesses through hurricanes (Rita, Ike and Harvey) and economic downturns (2008 – 2010), I found these actions and behaviors critical in helping provide stability and focus during adversity.

Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, TX
  1. Listen & Seek to Understand. The first and most important point is to embrace the feeling of uncertainty and the stress your organization is feeling. At an individual level. There were several times I had private conversations with people who cried about their concerns about losing their homes, or not being able to get to their family member. Events like we are experiencing now affect each person differently. Listen, be present, and offer support and comfort.
  2. Provide A Realistic Assessment. Your organization is built with smart people, so don’t insult them. Do your homework to understand the current state, coordinate with other groups to validate (local authorities, government, other businesses) and be honest with your team on the situation and how it is progressing. Also, if you don’t know, say so, but be working on finding out.
  3. Create a Plan; Have Contingencies. It is impossible for you to anticipate all the issues, so having a “perfect” plan is simply a waste of time. But have a plan, make it agile enough to deal with new information, and have several contingencies in the event a situation takes an unforeseen turn. Document what you are doing as this will help you create a scenario plan of how to deal with such an issue in the future. Enroll your team in creating this plan. This is a time for collaboration.
  4. Be Visible, Be Supportive, Be Empathetic. The worst thing you can do as a leader is disappear. You have to be visible and available to provide that stability, even if you are virtual. During Hurricane Harvey when the storms and flooding reached levels never before seen and we were all locked-down in our homes, I was:
    1. Speaking live with my leadership team everyday as part of our communication tree
    2. Providing daily system-wide recorded messages for the entire staff that provided an update on the organization, so they could hear my voice and know I was “in it” with them
    3. Sending out email updates to all staff and corporate stakeholders every few days to provide a situation update as well as planned next steps
    4. Speaking with our platform President daily to ensure he was informed on the situation and confirming the safety of our team
  5. Communication Cadence. It is your responsibility to ensure all staff is accounted for and has support during adverse conditions.
    1. Create a communication tree with your team so that each staff member can check in with his/her manager, and so-on. Establish this check-in as mandatory
    2. Establish a communication plan, share the plan and timing with the staff, and stick to it
    3. Check-in on the communication information you are providing to see if more or less as needed, and adjust
    4. Be honest but stay positive and do not exacerbate fear and panic. Keep everyone focused on the plan, the contingency and the well-being of each other
  6. Demonstrate Consistency, Discipline, Focus & Goodwill. I not only communicated with my organization everyday but kept my corporate management abreast of the situation, both from a personnel standpoint as well as a structure/business standpoint. This included sharing stories of hardship that people were going through, and things I authorized immediately to help them. Our corporate team also stepped-up and created financial aid packages for individual staff members to help them rebuild their lives after suffering heavy losses. Finally, we as an organization found ways to donate to one-another and to the community, both during and after the storm. Whether it was a donation of time, money, labor, materials or other, I was only too eager to encourage this for anyone who was interested, and found it to be a pathway to connection and healing.
  7. Have A Sounding Board. In a situation like this, you are going to feel stress, concern and loss. You need to feel it, but not let it drive your decisions. Have someone you trust as your sounding board so you can express your angst or grief. If you don’t give yourself some moments to feel, you won’t be able to be the best leader for the rest of your organization.

2 thoughts on “Leading Through Adversity

  1. Kathleen Stone

    There is a tremendous amount of leadership wisdom in this commentary. It honors the stress being experienced in our country, yet provides common sense strategies to stay calm in the storm. Loved the Patton quote and photo!


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