Clearly, we are living in unusual circumstances. Unemployment may get as high as 30%, the economy is tanking, and even as states and businesses are slowly starting to reopen, there is still no guarantee of when we will get back to a sense of normalcy. I have spoken with many of my friends and colleagues who are also CEOs, some of them who are having harder times than others, some experiencing mass layoffs and furloughs of their staff, and some who are just getting by in this very turbulent business climate.
It’s easy for a CEO to lead during positive and high-growth times. When things are going good both in the economy and the business, the CEO can appear to be leading an incredibly successful organization and sometimes even look to be a business genius. However, I’ve always thought that leading in good times is a false narrative, because in the end, anyone can do it. It’s only when times are tough and when leaders are facing a crisis do their real skills and qualities shine. How a CEO handles their staff in these critical moments will show their true abilities to lead an organization. The business doesn’t have to be thriving in order for him/her to be a good leader. Being a good leader is not always doing the most popular thing, it’s often the opposite. Being a leader is doing things, outside the scope of work and lead by example. How a leader communicates their vision while making hard decisions along the way will allow them to be able to lead that company to its end date.
How a CEO handles their staff in these critical moments will show their true abilities to lead an organization.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve read so many examples about leaders having to make these tough decisions but not being able to effectively communicate and herald their workforce with grace and dignity. Being a leader can be a thankless job at times, but it doesn’t mean you should be thankless to your workforce who work tirelessly for you day in and day out. It’s not easy to be transparent when times are looking tough, but it’s not fair to give false hope to an organization. You may have to push people to their limits, even when its hard to focus on the goal and mental health is real and fragile.
As leaders, we have to lead with our vision and believe in the communication that we preach. It’s ok to say times are tough, and it’s ok to say things aren’t looking good, but it’s imperative for us as leaders to continue to believe in our mission and our business model. Every business goes through growth and decline, but great businesses will continue to survive no matter what. Whenever there is a downturn in the economy, it has always been followed by the disruption or acceleration of certain industries. There’s an entirely new gig economy industry that was born from the downtown of the recession in 2008. It’s incredibly hard to stay positive in times like these, when you feel like the world is collapsing around you. But how a leader handles their situation now will gain the utmost loyalty from their workforce when we come out of this.
Growing up in Chicago, I was a die hard Bulls fan, so naturally, I have fallen in love with “The Last Dance” documentary on ESPN. So to quote the all time great Michael Jordan, “Winning has a price. Leadership has a price. I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled, I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. I earned that right. But I never asked them to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.”
Treat people how you want to be treated, be a leader like how you would want to be led, and that’s the most your team will ever ask from you. Believe in yourself, believe in your vision, and people will follow.