Leadership In a Time of Crisis

Leadership In a Time of Crisis
April 8, 2020 Alison Kieckhafer

“Anyone can lead when the plan is working. The best lead when the plan falls apart.” – Robin Sharma

Times are tough right now. There is no doubt about that. As the owner of a small business that thrived producing live corporate meetings and events, COVID-19 is challenging my team, the hospitality industry and our economy in ways I never imagined possible. Yet in the midst of these trying and uncertain times, I am still called upon to lead my team through this tough situation. It is my duty to rise above the uncertainty and chart the course for survival, resilience and innovation.

This is no small task, however. And I would be lying if I said it was one that didn’t keep me up at night. But in times when so many things are out of my control, I ground myself in the knowledge that the ten years of success experienced by The Event Lounge aren’t the result of blind luck. There is no doubt that our success is largely due to the hard work, creativity and dedication of our whole team. But I also attribute our achievements to seven simple leadership practices I adopted when I first started the company.

As a blossoming (and somewhat terrified!) entrepreneur starting my company in 2010, I was eager and hungry to learn as much as I could about what other successful leaders were doing and had done to achieve greatness. I was determined to adopt similar practices to ensure the success of The Event Lounge.

That’s when it happened. In November of 2010, I was lucky enough to attend an industry conference in Orlando where Pat Williams, former coach of the Orlando Magic, was the opening keynote speaker. It was during his presentation that I madly scribbled notes and crystalized my guiding principles as a leader.

According to Pat and based on hundreds of hours of research he conducted about effective leadership, the potency of a leader is defined by his or her ability to implement seven key leadership components.

As his presentation unfolded, I became more and more excited and found myself identifying with so much of what he had to say. It was there, in that ballroom in Florida, that I promised myself that I would implement these keys of leadership success.  I am finding them to be especially helpful as I lead my team through these difficult times. They are as follows:

Have a Clear Vision

In order to be a highly effective leader, one must look ahead to the future and have a clear understanding of where they are heading. Pat encouraged the audience to “begin with the end in mind.” Admittedly, this is tough to do right now since there are so many unknown, but for me, the end game is to keep my team intact and ensure the company survives this economic downturn.

Undoubtedly knowing the vision or goal, helps leaders stay focused, and it keeps them fueled and passionate. Most importantly, however, it drives them to finish what they started and accept nothing less than survival. This is what Walt Disney calls “stick-to-it-ivity” and it truly proves invaluable in effective leaders … especially during times of crisis.

Communicate Your Vision

Having a clearly defined vision is just part of the equation, however. Effective leaders must also be excellent at communicating their vision to stakeholders, clients and team members in a way that is understandable. True leaders excel at using verbal communication that is clear, concise and correct. Pat was also quick to point out that you will only be impactful in communicating your vision if you do so with hope, motivation and inspiration. He passionately repeated that it is imperative for leaders to be “hope dispensers”, sharing their motives with those they are leading so they can get buy-in and genuine support from their team.

That said, during this time of unprecedently uncertainty, I vowed to be positive and hopeful when communicating with my team. But also, I am determined to be transparent and honest. After all, we are all in this together.

Develop Genuine People Skills

The third essential characteristic of an excellent leader is genuine people skills. True leaders must love people in order to be a leader of excellence. Pat insists that “you can’t lead ‘em if you don’t love ‘em!” Be a genuine cheerleader for your people and let them know that they are loved and appreciated.

But loving the people you lead isn’t all it takes. You have to be visible and available to them and willing to listen to their input. Remember that “listen” and “silent” share the same letters so you must be open to ideas, feedback and constructive criticism. Get in the habit of asking your team members “What do you think? How would you handle this situation?” And don’t be afraid to delegate to them. It will create a natural succession plan which is vital to the growth and accomplishments of any organization. Pat closed out this point of his presentation by saying “success without a successor is not success.”

This is amazing food for thought to anyone in a leadership role. And in these unchartered territories of physical distancing, I am finding that I have to work overtime to make sure my team members feel secure, valued and useful. Pouring myself into them is just as rewarding for me as it is for them.

Always Remember that Character Counts

The fourth key to leadership excellence is character. Pat passionately stated that “you can only climb as high on the leadership ladder as your character allows.” By this, he means that it is paramount that any leader practice honesty and integrity in every aspect of their life. True leaders must be willing to match their walk with their talk, no matter the cost. And leaders of excellence must always practice humility. Being humble and gracious … in a genuine manner … is essential.

In the midst of crisis, this is more important than ever. As employees and business leaders become desperate, we may regrettably see some of this moral character fall away. That won’t happen at The Event Lounge, however, as I will continue to reinforce to my employees our guiding principle that people and product are ALWAYS more important than profit. Even now when profit is scarce.

Become a Subject Matter Expert

Pat continued his presentation by impressing the need for leaders to be highly competent in their field. The good news is that it is never too late to become a subject matter expert as learning is a lifelong process that is developed, not something you are born possessing. Pat encouraged the audience to “be a lifelong learner and lifelong reader.” As you master your craft, also make sure you fine tune your problem-solving skills, your selling skills and your talent evaluating/team building skills. These are all essential areas of growth and knowledge for true leaders. It is also imperative that you be willing to share your knowledge as a teacher to others coming up in your industry.

This is something I am focusing on myself right now. I am basking in the volume of free on-line courses and webinars, sharpening my skills so I am posed to be even better when this crisis passes. I am encouraging my employees to do the same.

Practice Boldness

The sixth key to being a leader of excellence is the ability to make swift decisions, absent of regret. In order to be perceived as a superior leader, you must not be afraid to make decisions and lead the charge for your team. After all, as a subject matter expert in your field, you are armed with the most pertinent information that will guarantee your decisions are educated and targeted. Announce your decisions with confidence and passion. This will motive your team to support you as the process unfolds.

This is so very important right now. In a time of such uncertainty, my employees are relying on me to be definitive and confident in the decisions I make about the company. I do this with the help of several trusted advisors because I want to be sure I am not making decisions in a silo that is driven by misinformation, fear or haste.

Lead with a Serving Heart

Last but definitely one of the most important traits of amazing leadership is the desire to lead with a heart of service. Pat argues that this is what sets true leaders of excellence apart from those posing as leaders. The most impressive, lasting leaders around the globe have been people that have possessed a serving heart. They have been individuals that are not only motivated by their vision but also motivated by their desire to give back in some way.

This is something I strive to do daily. Rather than spending time and energy worrying about things I can’t control; I am seeking opportunities to help others in the industry. I am talking to fellow business owners about how they can pivot and reinvent their products and services to ensure survival. I am spending time on the phone with people who have lost their jobs to discuss financial options for longevity. I am doing whatever I can to help others. To be honest, though, I am the one that really thrives because of it!

These seven keys to leadership excellence, when actively applied, will help guarantee an organization’s ability to survive adversity. Now, more than ever, leaders need to step up and guide their employees with confidence and determination. To that charge, as I lead The Event Lounge through this time of national crisis, not a day passes that I haven’t leaned on one of these principals. And I look ahead with positive anticipation, knowing that my company and my team will be stronger and well poised when business does return.