The havoc that COVID-19 brought, and continues to bring, to our workplaces has tested executive leaders’ problem-solving skills and resilience. We are making shutdown decisions that affect our people’s lives and safety and the fortunes of our company in an atmosphere of remarkable uncertainty. It’s like one of those famously complicated case studies that business school students are assigned to solve. What lessons can we take away?
Many CEOs have bought into the myth that they are—or should be—all-knowing and ever-confident. Of course, we are not superheroes just because we have the corner office. We are fooling ourselves if we feel certain we know when and how to bring employees back to the workplace, resume or postpone travel or events, and make other shutdown decisions.
The best business leaders restore their confidence in ways I detail in my book Beyond the Superhero: Executive Leadership for the Rest of Us. Here’s how they apply amid our current pandemic fatigue:
Staying positive: Leaders who project optimism are best positioned to maintain loyalty in a time when team members, clients, and providers are absorbed in their own anxieties and setbacks.
Staying focused: Forget the bromide that 90 percent of success is showing up. Team members still can be held accountable for outcomes, regardless of how much or how little time they spend warming a seat in the office.
Humility to the rescue: Humility allows us to feel that we don’t need to know everything, do everything, be everything, to be successful. What more appropriate attitude can we have when a global menace beyond our control is threatening our health and economic well-being? Leaders who don’t overestimate their ability to predict the future or maintain safe workplaces have made sound decisions to protect their people.
COVID-19 hit as my book was nearing publication, so I added an epilogue about how my company responded to the pandemic. Our headquarters straddles a line separating an urban county including Houston that was quick to issue a stay-at-home order and a less populous county where officials have been resistant to the now-familiar public health measures. Knowing we would get conflicting and confusing guidance from authorities we based our shutdown decisions on our values. We would err on the side of safety and take care of our people. After a robust discussion among the company’s senior leaders, we made a tough decision to waste no time and invest heavily in equipping staff to work from home.
I can’t say I have felt fully confident during the pandemic that I had all the right answers or that my company would not suffer financially from some decisions. But showing our own people we were looking out for their safety first enabled us to come through for our clients. This caring, safety-first message, communicated with simplicity and clarity, has kept our spirits up.