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How COVID-19 Is Testing My Leadership Skills and What It Is Teaching Me Along the Way - a Weekly Update (Week 8)

By Tom Goodmanson May 26, 2020

As I write this, it is hard to believe we are almost to June already. We are nearly halfway through 2020 and it feels like we have accomplished so much with having to pivot, face new challenges and, most importantly, stay safe. Yet, it can be easy to forget these achievements with the vast majority of our original plans thwarted.

As a world, we are slowly testing how to return to some sense of normalcy. The next few months will determine if we are making the right decisions in balancing safety and health with our desire to kick-start the world economy. This may mean we will need to completely rethink how we bring business, education, cultural activities and more back into our lives. But one thing is for certain: We need to band together to push ahead.

It is impossible to watch the news and not hear about the struggles that individuals, families and businesses are undergoing. No one person will be able to solve all these challenges, but we are seeing an amazing outpouring of support from those individuals that can make a difference. As business leaders, we exist as a group of people who can, and should, do more.

In this last update in my leadership lessons during COVID-19 series, I come to my fellow business leaders with a “call to arms” to do just that: Think broadly and boldly, dig deep and give more to help our communities move forward together.

In my more than 12 years at Calabrio, I have thought of myself and the company as a part of the communities that we work in and serve around the world. Therefore, I have been thinking about the various ways I can help those around me. Hopefully some of my ideas can help you as you look to be part of a global movement of leaders that are collectively working to create change and support those that need us.

Think Outside the Business

During the last seven weeks, I have talked at length about how Calabrio’s leadership is supporting employees and, in turn, how our teams are surrounding customers in new, digital ways. For our teams, we have offered well-being webinars, amplified our internal communication, promoted flexible working hours and announced an all-company day off to help people regroup and refresh. We need to continue those things, but we also need to think outside the walls of our own organizations.

For example, all our global offices are in urban city environments. Our employees have the benefit of popping out for lunch, visiting a family-run coffee shop or hitting up a local gym or music venue after work, all within a few blocks. While this might seem like just a convenience, part of our brand is having offices in vibrant, community-oriented areas. I strongly believe that when employees feel connected to the communities and environments around them, it creates a happier, more engaged workforce.

But, these surrounding businesses are struggling. If they go under, we lose an important part of our community and our culture. It is happening already. Each office has seen local businesses around them announce permanent closures.

As business leaders, we have the ability—and I believe the responsibility—to help. I know we cannot help them all, but my advice is to pick one or two small local businesses that are important to your community and your employee well-being and do what you can. Promote patronage of these establishments, buy gift certificates for your employees, offer to pay their employee salaries for a day or even for a week. Do what you can to protect them and keep them afloat.

If you can afford to support these businesses from company profits, do it. If you can afford to support them from your own pocket, do that too. The efforts you put in now will have long-ranging impacts down the road, even if they do not seem obvious to others around you. That, I think, is also key—be humble. This is not a time for you to use your support as a beacon for kudos. Do it for the sake of well-being and rebuilding, not for acclaim.    

Protect Partnerships

Every business has partners and vendors. I have heard and read all the advice about managing financials during this time and being smart. It all makes sense—none of us wants to spread ourselves too thin or risk our own company’s financial security. But if you can make it work—once you’ve taken care of your employees—pay your vendors on time, or even early. Pay your outstanding invoices now. If you plan to work with these vendors on an ongoing basis, pay them for future services.

If you have a long-standing relationship with a particular partner or small vendor, chances are you maintain that relationship because you see value in it. Consider the impact on your business if that relationship did not exist—can you afford to lose it? Do you have the time and the ability to replace that relationship with one just as strong? If the answer is no, then do what you can to protect that relationship. Pay it forward by advancing your payment and supporting their business.

Hold Each Other Accountable

I am not a fan of public callouts in order to get companies or individuals to do the right thing. But in this case, I am making an exception. I think it is incredibly important that we hold each other, as leaders and as guides for others around us, accountable. In my heart, I think we all want to help in some way. But, keeping our families, friends and employees safe and healthy first is a demanding role for anyone. Do we really need to take on more responsibility?

Yes, we do. Because our personal communities and the communities seemingly external to us are so interconnected. Each one impacts the other, and we really are all in this together.

Yet, holding each other accountable does not need to be a declarative act—and certainly not an aggressive one—it can instead be driven by private discussions. I, too, have sometimes struggled to think outside my own universe and consider the others who are desperately holding on around us. What helped me was talking to other leaders, family, friends and asking my colleagues. Now, they are helping keep me accountable, too.

As I close out this column, and the series, I ask that you think about how you can help those around you in your community. Together we are strong. As always, reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have stories about how you are helping that you want to share.

If you missed any of the first seven posts on leadership during crisis, they are all available at Calabrio Corner.

Edited by Erik Linask
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