Episode: 3 Actions to Lead Through Today’s Crisis
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: Welcome to this bonus episode of Lead to Win, where we’re going to be talking about the main thing that’s on every business leader’s mind right now: “How do I keep my company going in this time of crisis?”
Megan: Gosh. What a crazy time we’re in right now. I know you guys feel it. It just seems every day we learn more and the impact becomes bigger. Nearly everybody is affected by this, and some companies are virtually shut down. Businesses are trying to figure out on the fly how to do remote work, maybe for the first time, and (this is a big one, speaking for myself) parents are dealing with school closures and having kids at home while also trying to work. It’s just a lot.
There’s a lot of self-doubt around, “What if my business fails or I lose my job?” or “How do I take care of my family?” I think everybody, if we’re honest, is a little bit scared and definitely exhausted. What we keep hearing from our audience is that this crisis is shaking their confidence. So, that’s what we wanted to jump on and talk to you guys about today.
Michael: Absolutely it’s shaking people’s confidence. If it’s not shaking your confidence, then I don’t think you’ve seriously taken stock of what we’re facing, but that is why we wanted to talk to all of our listeners today. I feel like every leader needs to hear this message right now. It’s something we’ve been giving now for a couple of weeks. We had our BusinessAccelerator coaching clients in here a couple of weeks ago, so we had to pivot after the president spoke on that fateful Wednesday night.
The next morning, we were scheduled to go in and teach our ordinary workshop content to our business coaching clients, and we had to do a big pivot. We had to get right to this crisis and talk about how to lead through a crisis. So, we want to talk about three simple actions you can take, but before we do that, we want to bring on Larry. Hey, Larry.
Larry Wilson: Hey, guys. How are you?
Megan: Good. Glad you’re here.
Michael: A little bit different, isn’t it?
Larry: It is. We should let everybody know we’re practicing social distancing here. We are all recording remotely, so we’re all not only in different rooms but also in different buildings and different states, some of us, including Nick, our producer who’s on the line. I really am glad we’re talking about this topic, because I’m not a business leader. I’m working in a business that’s coping with what’s happening here, and it is kind of a shaky time for everybody. We’re nervous about what’s coming around the corner. I think one of the things we want to start off saying, Michael, is that this is not your first rodeo.
Michael: That’s true.
Larry: You’ve been through at least a couple of crises before, including the recession of 2008/2009. You were actually leading a very large company at that time.
Michael: The interesting thing, even to go back before that, because I was just thinking as you were talking… I had just founded a new publishing company back in 1986, and it was our first year when Black Monday of 1987 hit. Even that was a panicked time. Our timing could not have been worse. We start this new publishing company, and then Wham! At that point, it was the single largest drop in stock prices on any specific day. I think we’ve actually passed that now with this current crisis.
But, yeah, in 2008, I was leading Thomas Nelson Publishers through the Great Recession. We were about a $250 million-a-year company and about 750 employees, and it was particularly frightening because we were kind of in the fog of war. We didn’t recognize it immediately. It was one of those things where nobody was using the R word, recession, initially. It was just we noticed our sales were slowing down. But as a publishing company, we were coping with a couple of other tsunamis, looking back on it.
First of all, the whole transition to digital publishing from physical publishing. We didn’t know where the bottom of that bucket was or how consequential it was going to be, but it felt like a tsunami was washing over us. Then, in addition to that, we had the social media revolution, so a lot of the traditional things we were doing with conventional marketing weren’t working. So we were trying to process that, and then, all of a sudden, we hit the rapids of the recession. So it was a really, really rough time.
I would just say to people who are listening to this: if you’re feeling fear right now, that’s normal. I think every leader I’ve talked to in the last few weeks is feeling that. That doesn’t have to define our responses. One of the great things about being a human is that we can choose our responses. At Thomas Nelson Publishers back in 2008, when we began to see that we were in the midst of this recession, we were able to do some things to maintain our confidence, make solid decisions, and find a way through.
Amazingly, the company remained profitable throughout the entire recession. We definitely had our challenges. We had to cut product lines, had to cut sales channels, had to go through two rounds of layoffs with our staff. It was tough, but we made it, and we were stronger for it.
Larry: That’s an amazing experience, and it certainly gives you a lot to say right now to everybody who’s facing this crisis and maybe their first time. It is a scary time, and there’s really a danger of letting that fear kind of go unchecked, isn’t there?
Megan: Yeah, there is. There are a couple of responses that really, really don’t work here. The first one is letting our brains revert to that “flight, fight, or freeze” mode, where we can’t make decisions and we don’t take action. That is a huge danger right now, to sort of have that “deer in the headlights” thing happen, because your people, your customers, your team, your family are all looking to you to lead, and that’s what you have to do right now.
But then the other thing that could happen is you just try to go on with business as usual. That’s not going to work either, because, again, if you haven’t really immersed yourself in the news, this is a major threat. I mean, we’re already seeing the economic impact. We’re probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg there, and we have to prepare ourselves to act. That’s why we’re here today: to show you the kind of alternative response you can have that will be productive in this time.
Michael: From my perspective, our greatest assets right now are clear thinking and the ability to flex strategically, and both of those come as a result of confidence. Fear is reactive; confidence is proactive. I’ve learned by coaching leaders through crises of various sorts and leading through significant crises myself that confidence is accessible to all of us, even right now. You have to be able to count on that.
By the way, we’re going to be talking more about this in a free training we’re doing called Confidence in Crisis. You can register for that (it’s free) at michaelhyatt.com/crisis. That’s a free training we’re going to be starting almost immediately. By the time you’re hearing this, it’ll be live. You’ll be able to register for it. We’re going to be doing it for several days in a row because we believe it’s that important.
Larry: Today we’re talking about how you can lead with confidence through this crisis by taking three actions. Let’s get to the first one. That first action is: recognize.
Michael: I think we have to be self-aware and aware of what we’re in the midst of. To find confidence in this crisis, you have to recognize your circumstances. Acknowledging our circumstances is frightening, particularly in an environment where they seem to be changing every day. Here’s the deal: willful denial is not going to help you. That’s not going to help anyone. Ask anyone who has put off getting a medical diagnosis. You’re going to find out sooner or later. You’re going to confront the facts sooner or later. Better to confront them sooner when you can do something about it.
Megan: Yeah. I think the first thing to recognize is just the crisis itself. There are two aspects to that. The first one is the health threat posed by the virus itself, and the second and maybe the most significant is the economic threat we’re already seeing. Of course, eventually, this pandemic is going to pass, but the economic impact is going to be felt much longer. How long and what it really looks like is anybody’s guess, but we cannot ignore what’s happening. I think to empower ourselves, we really have to recognize what the facts are in this situation.
Michael: I do too, Megan. One of the most helpful ways to do that is to use a framework I first learned from Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s called the Stockdale Paradox. Admiral James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over seven years. He was asked by Jim Collins many years later to reflect on that experience. He asked, “Which kinds of people didn’t survive?” and he said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
There are two aspects of getting through any crisis, and this is a thing Jim Collins pulled out of that conversation with Admiral Stockdale. First of all, you have to recognize the most brutal facts of your current reality. That’s this first action: to recognize. Then never lose faith that you’re going to prevail in the end. Confidence begins when we recognize the brutal facts of the present. We can’t just stick our heads in the sand or be overly optimistic. We have to face reality, and our people are counting on us to do that.
Megan: I think this is an important point, because one of the things I’ve seen happening on social media… We certainly talk a lot about mindset and all of that, but I’ve seen some people who have kind of used that mindset idea as a way of perpetuating denial. They’re kind of in a place of all of the great things about this…having time at home, and whatever. Certainly, there are upsides and opportunities, and we’ll talk about that later, but they’re not doing the hard work of confronting these brutal facts. Unfortunately, that’s not going to turn out well for people.
Michael: No, and it doesn’t create any credibility with your team or trust with your audience. You have to be honest about these facts we’re facing. We have to have the discipline to be brutally honest with the most difficult facts of our current experience.
Megan: I think people need to hear the truth from us, as leaders. That’s one of the things we have had an absence of: clarity about what the situation is. To the best of our ability as leaders, to be able to speak to that directly and also to offer hope, as part of the Stockdale paradox, that we will prevail in the end, is what our people need most right now.
Michael: Okay. The first thing we have to recognize is the crisis itself, but the second thing to recognize (and this is where self-awareness as a leader comes in) is our own response, as leaders, to the crisis. How you and I react to this crisis is part of the crisis. It’s contributing to the crisis and the emotions other people feel, so we have to get a handle on this.
Larry: Michael, I can’t help but throw this in here. I don’t know if you’re familiar with zombie movies.
Michael: I’m afraid I’m not.
Megan: It might be a good time to start watching them.
Larry: It might be. Sort of the godfather of zombie movies is a director called George Romero (Night of the Living Dead and so many others), and I remember him saying one time just exactly what you pointed out, that the zombies are really not the movie; the movie is about how people react to them. They’re just a device to disrupt normal life, and then it’s a story about how people act in crisis.
Michael: That’s so interesting. It brings up the point that we need to recognize our emotions, and certainly, we do that in a horror film. Are they constructive? Are they empowering? Or are we beginning to shut down and get into that survival mindset Megan was talking about earlier? Are our emotions commensurate with reality? Certainly, we can be concerned, but I don’t think we have to be alarmed and operating under fear. We can’t afford to pretend like nothing is wrong and underreact, but we also can’t afford to overreact and be panicky or fearful. We’re looking for that golden mean, that middle way that holds on to both of those realities.
Megan: Guys, I don’t know about you, but my experience as this has evolved and unfolded has been that this kind of feels like a tightrope walk. You find yourself kind of going between these two poles and constantly having to adjust to come back to the middle. It’s not like you just set your mind to it that you’re going to stay steady and stay in the middle and not panic.
It’s something you’re constantly using your self-awareness to evaluate. You know, “Okay. I’ve been scrolling through news sites now for 45 minutes, and I feel my anxiety rising. I need to put my phone down for a while. I need to go for a walk in my neighborhood or I need to go out and hang out with my kids for a little while.” It’s not like a “set it and forget it” sort of mindset strategy; it’s something we’re constantly working to preserve.
Larry: It’s really easy, Megan, to slip into that scarcity mindset. When you see the shelves empty of toilet paper and so many other things, it’s kind of easy to get panicky.
Megan: It is, and I think that’s normal. One of the things we have to do in this process is, first of all, be compassionate to ourselves. This is a very primitive response we’re experiencing as humans. We’re designed to have a “fight, flight, or freeze” survival response to keep us safe. When we’re trying to come out of scarcity thinking and that kind of shutdown mode to a place of opportunity and abundance and leadership and caring for others, we’re really trying to move our brains from that self-protective state to a higher level of thinking, and that’s not an easy task.
So I think it’s normal if you find yourself devolving to that place and then having to bring yourself back. That’s really normal. I’ve certainly had many of those experiences myself over the last couple of weeks, so you’re in good company.
Michael: This is why I think it’s particularly important to pay attention to our inputs, to recognize our inputs, because we don’t have control over what’s happening in the world. We don’t probably have control over how the federal government responds or even the local community governments, but the one thing we do have control over is our thoughts and how we’re thinking about this. What we put into our brains is key. Garbage in; garbage out.
A heavy diet of news (I’m speaking from experience) creates a false sense of action. You’re not really taking any action. You feel amped up. You feel the adrenaline rush, but it also distracts from innovation and problem-solving. You can’t sacrifice mental bandwidth on sensational headlines. I’m not saying, don’t stay informed. I’m saying, limit it. If you’re consuming the headlines and doing a daily wrap-up, if you’re a leader, that’s probably enough.
More than that and, I promise you, it’s going to infect your thinking, because fear is contagious, and then you’re going to infect your people. If there’s one thing that’s more dangerous than the coronavirus, it’s the idea virus. None of us can allow ourselves to be taken over by that, and we do have control over whether we get taken over by that or not.
Megan: The third thing to recognize is that you have a lot of resources as a leader. This is so easy to forget when you’re in the middle of that primitive brain place, but this is not the first crisis you’ve been through. Even if you haven’t led through a recession or a major crisis like this before, I guarantee you’ve been through something very, very significant in your life, whether it was roller-coaster stock markets or personal tragedies or professional failures or setbacks.
I mean, we’ve all been through so many things, and thankfully, we have a perfect track record of getting through 100 percent of our hardest days. Right? We forget that, but we have gotten through every hard thing and every hard day we have ever, ever faced. So, just recognizing the emotional, relational, financial, and spiritual resources we possess is critical for having the confidence we need to make the right decisions during a crisis.
Larry: So, the first action in leading with confidence during a crisis is to recognize the reality of the current situation, your reaction to it, and the resources you have in dealing with it. That’s recognize. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in the right head space to take action. The second action we want to talk about is to reassess.
Michael: This is where we have to do the hard thinking. To find confidence in this crisis, we have to reassess our position relative to the threat. So, an honest appraisal of exactly where we are. That involves reassessing our vulnerabilities, ways to mitigate our risks, and to take advantage of opportunities.
Larry: Let me stop you right there, Michael. Are you saying there are opportunities to be had in this crisis?
Michael: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things I learned in just recently reviewing a speech that Franklin Roosevelt, president of the United States during much of the Depression… He said in 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” All of us have heard that before, and it’s still a good reminder. What most of us don’t know is the second part of that quote, where he says, essentially, “Right now we need to be turning retreat into advance.”
That’s such a great mental shift, such an important mental shift for leaders. We have to move from being reactive to being proactive. We have to move from being on our heels to leaning forward and being on our toes. But, first, what we have to talk about is vulnerabilities. We have to face these head-on.
I became the CEO of Thomas Nelson in 2005, and by the end of 2007, the company had had six years of steady growth. I was the COO earlier before that, but we had just continued to grow. It was an amazing time, up and to the right, as I like to say. But then came the crisis. I mentioned a little bit of this before, but the Kindle was released in early 2008, which sent shock waves through the publishing industry, because we thought, “Oh my gosh! What’s going to happen to our business?” Digital delivery gutted the music business. Were we going to be next?
Then social media was reshaping how we did book marketing, and then recession hit. It hit books first, and sales slowed down by the end of 2007. I knew we had to react quickly and get accustomed to the new normal, because it wasn’t going to be going back to the old normal anytime soon. So, we immediately converted all print books to digital. That took us several months. We were on it. That was our Manhattan Project inside of Thomas Nelson.
We created a new process for producing print and digital together so that every book was simultaneously published in both formats. We shut down underperforming divisions to free up resources. Personally, I learned how to leverage social media for marketing. I felt like I needed to roll up my sleeves and get in there and figure it out for myself if we were going to find a way forward in terms of marketing our books.
Hardest of all, we proactively laid off a total of 20 percent of the workforce…10 percent initially, and then 10 percent about nine months later. We were facing new realities. We had to confront those. We had to even use those to our advantage. So, the thing I would ask of those of you who are listening is…What threat does this crisis pose to the various domains of your business? Where are you vulnerable? What supply chain disruptions are likely or possible, for example? Or how will your customers be impacted? Can you handle critical projects if everyone is working from home?
Will your marketing spend have to escalate or de-escalate? Are people so distracted right now that they don’t care about your messaging? I’m talking about in the marketplace. What’s your current cash position? Ugh! This is one none of us want to talk about, but honestly, your ability to weather the storm is going to be somewhat dependent on your cash position now and on your lines of credit. What are your reserves? What resources do you have? So, again, we’re talking simply about assessing those vulnerabilities.
Larry: You know, what I like about that, Michael, is that just the fact of quantifying the threat kind of makes it easier to handle, because up until then, it’s kind of this nebulous blob of threat, but when you put it in black and white, maybe you can get your mind around it.
Michael: That’s why sometimes one of the best things you can do to get a handle on your fear is go to the worst-case scenario, imagine the worst. If not, you’re going to catastrophize, and that’s going to actually be worse than the worst-case scenario. To go to the worst-case scenario sort of takes some of the emotion out of it, and you go, “Okay. If that happens, we can still survive.”
Megan: Once you have a sense of what your real vulnerabilities are, it’s time to think about how to mitigate those risks, because it only matters if you understand what the vulnerabilities are if you get a good plan for moving forward. For example, how can you minimize or reduce fixed costs, pause new expenses, free yourself up from burdensome obligations to your time that are keeping you from innovating?
How can you exit an unprofitable business or cut bureaucracy or redeploy your staff who maybe previously were working on things that now are no longer relevant? Are there new ways to serve your most important clients or fire the bad ones? Steve Jobs slashed the product line when he returned to Apple as the CEO, and he said, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” I think that’s a great directive for us today.
It’s also important to be incremental in your thinking. For example, you can kind of think of this like tiers. Tier one is minimal but advantageous changes to business as usual. Tier two would be a conservative rollback on your initiatives, maybe redirecting resources to more profitable endeavors. Then tier three would be radical moves like layoffs and renegotiating debt and totally pivoting on your most significant products, things like that. Just having a range of options before you can help you respond responsibly depending on how things evolve.
Michael: I think every business leader is going to be in a different context. Like, some businesses right now are at tier three. They’re doing layoffs. They’re doing radical renegotiation. They’re doing everything they can to survive. Other businesses are being relatively little impacted, so it doesn’t require that tier-three response. I think that’s why you have to assess the vulnerability, you have to mitigate the risk, and then you’re in a position to take appropriate response based on a tiered or incremental sort of approach.
Larry: So, we’ve talked about assessing the threat and finding ways to mitigate the vulnerabilities. Let’s get back to that opportunity question.
Michael: Here’s the thing. Almost no situation is all downside. There are a lot of opportunities even in the most difficult situations, but here are some opportunities you may discover. You may discover there are ways of doing more with less. When we’re in abundant times and our margins are big and it’s just “easy street,” so to speak, it’s easy to let things crowd into the process to add things to the process that are really not necessary, and this gives us an opportunity to strip those out.
Working from home can actually be a cost saver, and that’s one reason we’re excited to share the ebook The Remote Work Handbook: Do’s and Don’ts to Set You Up for Success. You can download that free at leadto.win/remote. There may be assets you discover that you can leverage in new ways, things you didn’t really see as that relevant prior to this crisis, but now, all of a sudden, they’re eminently relevant.
There could be products you want to get to market sooner rather than later, sales channels you may want to add that you weren’t considering before. Now may be an opportunity to make some good and important strategic moves that’ll pay off not only in the crisis but into the future beyond the crisis too.
Larry: Michael, what would be an example of that, a decision you wouldn’t have made if the reality of the situation didn’t force you? Have you done that before?
Michael: I have. Back during the Great Recession, one of the things we just took for granted…it was business as usual…was attending our trade industry’s annual trade show. That was a giant trade show that at Thomas Nelson we were spending about a half million dollars a year to attend. That was everything from our exhibit booth to all the travel for putting 80 to 100 people there, all of the rooms and meals and everything else that went into it.
We did a segmentation analysis on our sales channels and on our customers, and we discovered…get this…about 10 percent of our customers were driving 90 percent of our sales. So, we were able to pull out of that trade show, save a half million dollars, and then we put on an exclusive event for our key clients, those 10 percent, at about a fifth of the cost of attending the trade show. The result was actually better than business as usual, because we were presenting our new products to those clients in an environment that wasn’t so distracting and where they could exclusively focus on us for a couple of days. So it ended up being a great solution.
Megan: I love that story. I think it really starts to get the wheels turning of what are some options people can take advantage of. There are a few key questions you can ask for identifying opportunities in your own business.
First of all, how are you uniquely placed to help customers right now? One of the best things you can do is to think about your products and services and how to make them relevant and part of the solution people need right now. That’s also helpful because your team needs to feel like there’s some purpose outside of their own survival in this kind of a crisis, and if they feel like they can serve your customers in a meaningful way, that’s huge for morale and it’s a huge antidote to fear.
Also, do market concerns make your products suddenly more relevant? That’s true for a lot of people. Think of things like Instacart or Shipt or Amazon or the grocery store pick-up services, all that kind of stuff. Could you reposition a product to address the current reality in a more palpable or obvious way for your customers? So, those are just a few questions you can ask as you’re thinking about what the opportunities are in the middle of this crisis that your business could pursue.
Larry: It reminds me of that question we’ve asked so often around here. Michael, I know it’s one of your favorites. “What does this make possible?”
Michael: Yes. That shifts everything. What you need more than anything right now… It’s not the only thing, but it’s the essential thing. You have to shift your mindset, again, from being reactive to being proactive and to be in that space of abundance where you can create and innovate. When you’re in survival, that’s not how you think.
Larry: Is there a danger of maybe overthinking this and just getting stuck in assessment mode? Not that I ever do that.
Megan: Larry, that reminds me of the famous Patton quote that goes something like, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” That’s kind of the situation all of us are in. Action is our top priority. Taking action, doing the very best we can with what we have right now, moving ahead, and just doing the next right thing is how we need to think about our actions and our time and our investments. There’s no way we can see all the way to the end of this thing and have all of the facts we’d like to have to make all of the decisions we need to make. We just have to get busy and take action now for the sake of our team and the people we’re serving.
Larry: So, our first action to build confidence when leading in crisis is to recognize your situation, your response to it, and your available resources. Then we talked about the second action, which is to reassess your position, your risks, and your opportunities. Now let’s get to our third action, which is the action: respond.
Michael: That’s right. We have to respond. The time for action is now. I was thinking the other day about a story I read about during the Civil War. General George B. McClellan was the general Lincoln was depending upon the most. He was the leader of all of the Union armies, but he was super slow to act. He just hesitated. He could never get around to finally pulling the trigger.
At one point, President Lincoln just said to him, “General McClellan, can I borrow your army for a while, because it doesn’t seem like you’re using them?” He ended up getting fired, and he ended up also not only losing his job, but it prolonged the war and cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides, because he just couldn’t pull the trigger.
So, you have a plan. You’ve assessed your vulnerabilities. You’ve mitigated your risks. You’ve identified your opportunities. Now you have to implement it. You’re never going to have all the information you feel like you need, just like Megan was saying, but confidence doesn’t come by endless speculation. It doesn’t come from coming up with a perfect plan. It comes with careful analysis followed by bold action, and that’s what we need in a situation like this.
Megan: I think that’s really good, because the tendency is to hesitate or to try to understand all of the consequences of the decisions you’re about to make. There’s absolutely no way to do that. However, the surest way to fail is to hesitate, to hold back, to not make decisions in a timely manner, to leave your customers and your team hanging. At this point, the timeliness of these kinds of decisions that are on the table for us, as leaders, have to happen in real time. In some cases, the difference of a couple of days is make or break. We have to act.
Larry: Well, once you’ve made your action plan, how do you roll it out? That’s where people are going to need some real help with this. It’s inside my head. I know what we need to do, but now I have to get it out to the team. Walk me through that.
Michael: Well, the first thing you need to do is to summarize your plan as a series of talking points. Get it out of your head, get it on paper, but keep it simple. You need simple, clear action statements. Your confidence is going to rise as you make this action list, because now, all of a sudden, you’re beginning to get clarity about what you need to do. A simple list of concrete actions also makes it easier to enroll others, the other people in your company, and you’re going to need that if you’re going to succeed. It doesn’t all depend upon you, but it does depend upon your team, and having those talking points is a way to get them enrolled.
Megan: So then, after you have that, you want to vet the plan with your senior leadership team. This will vary depending on your context. It could be your board. It could be your business partner. If you have an executive team, it could be that group of people. You want to get those folks together, and you want to share your list of talking points. You want to allow them to express their fear, but you don’t want to let those things drive the decision-making.
You want to treat the plan you’re coming with as wet cement, because you really, really want their input. They are the subject matter experts in their areas of responsibility, so you want to make sure you have their take. They’re going to see risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities you wouldn’t necessarily see because they’re closer to the ground. They’re going to help you to shape and finalize the plan. Then, once you’ve gotten their input, you want to redraft it based on what they’ve shared with you so that it’s now ready to roll out to the entire team, which is the next step.
So, from those talking points, you’re going to write a memo to your team, a series, again, of talking points. If you have a team, for example, that’s spread between multiple locations or maybe you have a really large team where you don’t have a close relationship with each and every person or high trust on that team, this may be something you want to do over video. I think, as a default solution, video would be the recommended way to communicate with your team on these things. If you have a very small team you’ve been talking about this a lot with, you may be able to use written communication, and that would be okay too.
One of the things to think about is your tone. You want to be authoritative, but you also want to be empathetic. You want to speak to the fears and concerns your people have, because as the business owner or the leader in your company or your division, you have a lot more control than they do. They’re really dependent on you. So you need to understand their position and communicate some of the things back to them that they’re probably feeling.
You need to be confident, and you also need to be forthright. This is not the time to tell people what they want to hear. It’s not the time to tell people a version of the truth. You want to be transparent, because their confidence in you is going to be based on how much they trust you. So, being forthright is really helpful. Also (and this is something that is so, so easy to forget as leaders), we have to tell people what’s not changing.
For example, if layoffs are not part of the strategy you’re rolling out right now (and for many people, that’s going to be the case; it’s just not part of what you need to do at this stage), you need to tell people that that’s not something you’re considering yet. You want to be careful that you don’t promise things that down the road you couldn’t honor, so, what you don’t want to say is “No matter what, we would never, ever, ever lay anybody off,” unless you can be absolutely certain that’s true, and most of us wouldn’t be able to say that.
But you do want to say, “Based on what we know right now, that’s just not on the table.” That can give people a lot of confidence. Then, share your rationale behind the decisions and strategies you’re going to be making and rolling out. People haven’t had the benefit of this process you’ve just gone through, the discussions you’ve had with your leadership team and others, so they need to understand how you got to where you are so they can really back your decisions.
Larry: Megan, that all sounds really good. In fact, as I hear you say that, I recognize the ways you’ve done that with our team even in the last couple of weeks, and it has been very reassuring and helped bring everybody along. I want to go back to the… You said video is probably the best way to do that, and I think there may be some of our listeners who really haven’t had to deal with remote situations at all. What kinds of tools are available to get your whole team together?
Megan: We love, love, love Zoom. It’s very easy to use. It’s inexpensive. It’s easy to get people up and running on quickly. That’s the thing we would recommend for video meetings. There are some neat features of that where you can put people in smaller groups to do discussions and things, depending on what you need. One of the things to remember if you haven’t done a lot of video… Of course, we’re recommending video because it’s not recommended that you be together in groups of people at this point. Normally, we would say this is the kind of conversation you would have in person, for sure, so we’re going to go as close to that as we can.
Make sure to look in the camera. If you have not done a lot of video recording before, it’s very tempting, especially if you have talking points, to be looking down below the camera at your list of talking points. This is where you really need to be constantly shifting your eyes up into the camera, because you want to simulate an eye-to-eye conversation as much as possible, because that’s where people feel safe. That’s where they can look at your facial expressions and judge your intentions. It’s where they trust you. So, making sure to look at the camera is a really important, seemingly simple, but pro tip that will make this as effective as possible for you.
Larry: That’s zoom.us.
Megan: The last part of this is that you want to communicate your plan to your customers. The reason they don’t come first, necessarily, is because you want your team to be ready to serve your customers. You want everybody aligned around the same messaging, around the same strategies, so when the person who is on the front lines of your sales team or your customer support team or your marketing team is interacting directly with customers, they’re all singing from the same songbook. That’s why this order is happening when it does.
Every time you interact with a customer, it’s an opportunity to serve them. That’s why we’re in business, after all: to address the needs of our customers. So, we want to let them know in our communication that we are here to help them navigate through the crisis in whatever unique way our business and products and services are positioned to do that. This is an opportunity to put them at ease, to make them feel taken care of, to solve a problem or part of a problem that seems really overwhelming, and (this is really important) to reaffirm why your product or service is still or even more relevant than it ever has been for them. This is really a sales opportunity.
Larry: Well, today we’ve learned that every leader can build confidence and lead with confidence even in this crisis by taking three actions. The first: recognize the situation, your response to it, and your available resources. The second action is to reassess your position, your risks, and your opportunities. The third action is to respond by distilling your findings into a simple, clear plan of action and cascading that through your executive team, your whole team, and finally, to your customers.
These are great thoughts today, guys, and I think making a lot of leaders feel that they can actually get through this thing and have some confidence in doing it. What final thoughts do you have for our listeners today?
Megan: Well, this is understandably an unusual and overwhelming time for everybody, but especially for leaders. Not only are we trying to figure out how to manage all of the impacts of this to our personal and family lives, but we’re trying to figure out how to take care of our teams and our customers and all of the things that go along with leading in business.
First of all, we want you to know we’re standing with you, that we’re in it together with you, but also that we believe in you. One of the amazing opportunities we really didn’t get into is the opportunity of leadership right now. There is no doubt in our minds that the leader you are today is not the leader you’re going to be two months from now or six months from now, because this is going to require something of you that is beyond what you’ve ever had to step into before, and that’s incredible. That’s an amazing invitation.
If you’re willing to lean in, if you’re brave and bold and courageous, this will be at least one of the defining aspects of your leadership for your entire life, if not the defining aspect of your leadership. So don’t fight it. Lean in. Your people need you, and they’re counting on you.
Michael: The thing I would say is that resilience is your superpower. You might be tempted to think, “Boy, I wish I had more experience. I wish I was smarter. I wish I had more cash in the bank,” whatever it is, and all of those are helpful, but there’s nothing as helpful or nothing as important as resilience. I define resilience as the ability to get knocked down and get back up. You can’t fail if you don’t quit. I want to say that again because I think it’s so important. You can’t fail if you don’t quit. If something doesn’t work, try something else. If that thing doesn’t work, try something else. Keep innovating, keep creating, and you’ll get through to the other side.
Larry: Thank you so much, Michael, Megan. Honestly…no joking…I feel better after doing this episode with you guys. You gave me a lot of confidence, and I hope our listeners feel the same way.
Michael: Thanks, Larry, and thank you guys for joining us today. We’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.