The point of this writing is definitely not to suggest what our practices will be going forward, but how we as leaders should lead through this unchartered territory. No matter the situation, empathy and simple human kindness will be essential.
As I’m writing this, it’s April 29, 2020 and our nation is in the grip of a pandemic known as COVID-19. The effects on daily lives of all mankind, globally, has been enormous.
I was in Cambodia back in early February, back when the virus was just beginning its death grip on Asia. I recall arriving at the Siem Reap airport for a flight to Laos, astonished and frightened at a new phenomena: face masks. It seemed that everyone had them…everyone but my husband and me. Thankfully, a few minutes later, someone handed us paper masks and reality set in. We needed to get back home.
Now, even as many cities are continuing to see a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the medical and scientific community warns us that we will likely see the virus take many more lives, there is a faction of leadership that insists that we must get back to “normal,” that we must reopen businesses and resume social activities.
In my home state of Tennessee, one of the first to reopen, that presents a major challenge for business leaders. What the heck are we going to do?
The shock and fear that encompassed the mandate to work remotely or even temporarily close your business was difficult – no doubt. I believe it is fair to say that some businesses will never recover and most will take months or even years to “dig out.”
But if you are like me, the directive to reopen, to relaunch is JUST as discomfiting. I mean, how do you ensure the safety and health of your employees and your customers? What can be done virtually so as to lessen the potential spread of the virus? When we’re such a social, interconnected world, how do we maintain relationships while keeping a safe distance?
To be certain, our world will never be the same. Do you remember the early stages of this “season” when someone offered a handshake or a hug and you vacillated… “Yikes, do I shake his hand or not?”… and then see yourself NOW where there is no hesitation at all – you keep your distance and don’t even consider a touch?
Odds are that the ubiquitous handshake (or hug if you’re in the south) are customs of the past. Perhaps we’ll learn to replicate the beautiful, humble practice in some Asian cultures where the palms are pressed together and brought to your forehead or chest in a respectful nod as you greet one another. Or we’ll be a little more casual as Americans usually are…and do the elbow bump. But no doubt, things will be different. We will create our “new normal”.
Here are my suggestions for leading in this transitional “back to work” time:
Yes, we are living in a time of great uncertainty. I think back to that first week in February when I took a few photos of the crowd near the ticket counter in Cambodia, sure that no one at home would believe what we were seeing – that sea of masked faces.
Little did I know that, just 60 days later, that scene would be replicated in Nashville. And never would I have imagined that commerce and communities would come to a screeching halt – that we’d be advised to stay home for weeks…and possibly months. Things that we never imagined happening, are now common. What might happen next?
The new normal? Who knows WHAT that will be or WHEN it will be? Only one thing is certain: We are all in this together and solid leadership has never been more important.
Now, I’m assuming that if you’re reading my words, it means you already subscribe to my employee-first business model and you know that I grew a $40 Million company, debt-free, with empathy and common sense as my compass. But if you’re new to this way of thinking and are skeptical, stop to consider what your company would be like without your employees. It would be a mere fraction of what it is now, right?
The fact is that we need our employees way more than they need us. They fulfill our dreams, not the other way around. What would happen if you slowed down to notice and listen to those people who put their own dreams on the back burner to work for you to pay their bills?
I’ll guarantee that if your new normal includes showing them the simple human kindness, respect and dignity they deserve, you’ll have a more successful company. People who have a voice and who are seen, find greater satisfaction in their work, no matter how menial. And their satisfaction will lead them to perform their role better, making your company stronger during this difficult season and beyond.
Oh, and you’ll sleep better. That could be a great “new normal.”