The Events Of 2020 Offered Some Fascinating Lessons In Leadership – As we watched the pandemic unfold and faced uncertainty like never before, business leaders buckled down and made difficult decisions with real-life repercussions. Whether you’re an employee or executive, you surely encountered challenges of your own.
What qualities were necessary for leaders to get through the ultimate test of the pandemic? – We talked to some people who faced the odds head-on and showed us the true meaning of leadership.
Flexible And Fast Response
We watched years of change and innovation happen within 12 short months, and this accelerated the life cycles for many businesses out there. Companies that adopted an agile business model were positioned to succeed, while others fell short.
2020 brought a new meaning to the idea of “pivoting” in business, and many leaders took these lessons to heart.
“Flexibility has been the key quality that every leader needs to possess during COVID,” said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. “Think of all the changes that occurred just within a year. There were unexpected turns around every corner and if you were not ready to be flexible then you were bound to sink your business. Leaders need to adopt a business model centered around flexibility.
If things go awry, how will your business survive? If the market changes, how will you stay ahead? These two questions are vital to success and in the end, those that were able to make changes fast to their business models were the companies that found the most success.”
These aren’t just questions to ask when things get tough, but during good times as well.
With so many moving parts and uncertain variables at play, we looked to our coworkers and employees for a sense of consistency during challenging times.
Even if employees did not perform their best during 2020, they deserve a break and a second chance to take on 2021 in full force.
“Compassion is something that tends to be overlooked in business,” said Jeffery Brown, President of Big Fig Mattress. “Everyone on your team has a family and feelings and leaders who were able to view their employees as family or part of the team rather than workers were able to find more success during the pandemic. When you put your employees first you create an environment that uplifts everyone to get quality work done.”
Tensions may be high during times of crisis, but respect and cooperation always transcend.
Autonomy For Teams
When pressures mount, some leaders take a hands-off approach to management. Others go too far in the opposite direction and fall into the trap of micromanagement. Avoid either extreme and be a consistent leader no matter what’s happening externally.
“Resist the urge to micromanage,” said Ashwinn Krishnaswamy, Co-Founder of Oklahoma Smokes. “Pandemic leadership is about trusting your team to do their work enthusiastically from home, and if you’re constantly hovering over them, it will undermine their ability to be productive. When you trust your team, they’ll be more likely to act as self-starters and apply their own personal organization practices to their work—which will help them work more efficiently.”
Put some trust in your people and let them work their magic. You’ll be impressed with the results.
Despite everything happening in the world, teams still have deadlines to hit and expectations to meet. Your role as a leader isn’t to pressure them into performing better – that rarely works.
Instead, give them the support they need and be there to fill the gaps where necessary.
“As we’ve learned so much during this pandemic, understanding exactly how to ensure productivity may be one of the most important,” said Heidi Robinson, COO of Because Market. “Truly productive people, in general, are always looking for ways to be more efficient. If an app can save their team members 10 minutes a day, then it’s worth the price! And to be even more productive, encouraging innovative collaborations can send the results through the roof!
This type of creative thinking can help leaders see their way through the current pandemic, as well as any other uncertain times that may come their way.”
Discover what really motivates and encourages your team members and connect with them on a human level, rather than employing random tactics or pushing buttons.
Plan With Precision
There’s no such thing as a perfect plan, and as we’ve seen, even the most prepared organizations can come on tough times when the world is in crisis.
However, a company with a detailed plan will always outperform one that has no recourse during times of chaos. When in doubt, make a plan and ensure everyone’s in on it.
“One leadership quality that will help a leader through uncertain times is being a thorough planner,” said Josh Stomel, Founder of Turbo Finance. “Any business that works through a pandemic without a plan is in for potential disaster.
A leader must realize that there are dozens of pitfalls to avoid, as well as situations that no one could’ve possibly foreseen. Not having a plan to account for these issues is one of the primary reasons that some startups fail – all within the first year. However, having a business plan doesn’t mean that it has to be rigid, with no room for flexibility. Thoroughly expect that you’ll need to be innovative, and ready to pivot on a dime.”
Did your company’s plans hold together through 2020? Why or why not? These are questions to consider moving forward.
Keep A Cool Head
Whether you’re leading a small team of programmers or calling the shots in a high-octane sales department, there’s never any legitimate reason to lose your cool.
These past few months have been hard on everyone, but leaders need to keep their act together no matter what’s happening outside that window.
“Your people are looking to you in times of crisis to stay calm and act rationally, despite what the rest of the world might be telling you to do,” said John Berry, CEO of Berry Law. “Even if you’ve got internal worries or fears about the future, this is the time to be brave and lead everyone through the storm. They’ll remember how you conducted yourself during tough times, for better or worse. Better to show strength and build trust.”
When you establish a reputation for cool and collected behavior during a crisis, that’s going to serve you well down the road in anything you pursue.
Connect With Customers
During uncertain times, it’s our nature as humans to turn inward and focus on preserving our own personal wellbeing. The best leaders are able to resist this tendency and keep their intention on creating a great experience for customers and employees alike.
“If you’re lucky enough to have a great team on your side, they’ll be able to navigate work and personal stuff without much input from you,” said Dan Potter, Co-Founder of Craftd. “What you need to be more concerned about is your customers, and making them feel safe and assured during these times. Send emails, post messages, offer unique deals – anything to keep customers calm and incentivized to buy.”
Identify what your customer base needs from you and do everything in your power to provide it, even if you don’t have all the answers lined up.
Deploy New Tech
Simply relying on email and chat will only get a business so far in the era of remote work, and while employees might have some creative solutions up their sleeves, executives need to take the reins and ensure that every department gets the tech they need to succeed.
“Today, we are witnessing what will surely be remembered as a historic deployment of remote work and digital access to services across every domain, including medicine, education, government, entertainment, and more,” said Bob Swan, CEO of Intel. “In the coming weeks and months, services will be further digitized as the creativity of a massive work-from-home population gets rolling.”
There is no time to deploy solutions piece-by-piece and hope for the best. A total overhaul is the only answer at this point.
Embrace The Opportunity
Believe it or not, but many businesses came out on the other side of 2020 with more customers and cash flow than any year prior. In fact, countless companies were launched during this year, and many of them found success right out of the gate thanks to fast action and focus.
The lesson? There’s opportunity everywhere, even in the darkest times.
“These are the make-or-break moments for a lot of new companies, so really buckle down right now and work together to make magic happen,” said Dan Widmaier, Founder of Mylo Unleather. “With most social stuff out of the picture, why not set to work on an amazing new project or strengthen bonds with your team that will pay off big in the future? Look for the silver lining here and you’ll find something.”
True leaders have a deep-seated sense of confidence in their abilities, but they also know the limitations of what they can handle on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. Be the type of leader who knows when and how to delegate to your team members and everything will be so much easier, especially in crisis time.
“As a leader, you can only handle so much,” said Abraham Rahmanizadeh, COO of Leafwell Botanicals. “Avoid the urge to be the hero by burdening yourself with endless tasks every day. Take this chance to master the art of delegation and involve more people in your daily process. This will improve the flow of communication across teams and keep everyone engaged.”
You’ll find that difficult times actually bring teams together and make them stronger than ever before, so delegate away.
Put Service First
In these times, customers are demanding and expect a lot from you as a business. You’re competing with bigger companies that have their service and delivery on point, so this is your chance to differentiate yourself in a major way.
“This is the time to double down on customer service, even if it means pulling some resources away from other areas of your business,” said Matt Seaburn, Partner and President of Rent A Wheel. “Everyone is craving fast, reliable service from brands, and this can earn you major points in the short term. When the pandemic clears up, you’ll be the brand that helped them through that difficult time – that’s a big deal.”
Ask yourself what your company is doing to set itself apart from the competition, then capitalize on those unique selling points, whatever they may be.
Appreciate All Workers
We always hear cliches about employee recognition and showing appreciation, but at this juncture, it’s worth looking at more serious plans to improve retention and engagement.
Skilled workers have a lot of leverage right now, and companies should look at ways to keep them on board with the right incentives.
“I think that this is a time as a reset where we really have to reevaluate how we treat workers, how people are paid, how we can get them into a role where they receive equity as part of their compensation,” said Mark Cuban, Entrepreneur and Owner of Dallas Mavericks. “So that they’re not having to live paycheck to paycheck, they have something that appreciates. All these things I think are important as we go through this reset in business.”
Now that everyone works from home, employees can easily “pack up and move” at any time. What will you do to prevent that from happening?
Bring Teams Together
While some leaders are just trying to hold onto their jobs by the skin of their teeth, others are going above and beyond by bringing teams together and creating cross-company cohesion.
How is this done? It starts with a mission statement and a willingness to connect all employees under a common set of objectives.
From there, clear orders, instructions, and goals must be issued with technology to support their achievement.
“From marketing and sales to production and R&D, every department in your company needs to be on the same page to some degree,” said Brittany Dolin, Co-Founder of PocketBook Agency. “Try holding company-wide meetings and offer more transparency into your organization from the inside out. This will keep teams coordinated and everyone locked into a single, overarching mission.”
Sound lofty? This is simply what great leaders do every day.
Offer Something New
Maybe your sales have been plateauing for a while, and the pandemic situation hasn’t helped your cause. This could be a signal of customer boredom, so consider introducing something new to your audience. They’ll likely jump at the chance to buy.
“Look at your offerings and see if you can make any changes to the lineup to earn more sales right now,” said Scott Rosenberg, CRO of MaryRuth Organics. “It’s tough out there, and people are looking to save on cash. Serve up some bundles or subscription programs and it will generate interest from audiences far and wide. You might even earn some brand-new business and build a bigger following than before.”
No need to go all the way back to the drawing board and reinvent your brand. Just reboot your current strategy and give your brand a fresh start.
Give To Get Respect
We’ve all had our fair share of stress in the past few months, and it’s perfectly normal for there to be some tensions in the workplace as a result.
As a leader, your best recourse is to acknowledge problems and try to solve them in a diplomatic manner – not to stoke the flames or make situations any worse than they are.
“During these uncertain times, everyone, including your employees, are having a rough time with, well, probably just about everything,” said Jordan Dwayne, CEO and Founder of 6 Ice. “This may transfer into some loss of respect at work, or finding the need to hire employees who may not respect their leaders – in the beginning. So, one of the best leadership qualities during the pandemic may just be the ability to garner respect. And, the best way to be respected is to earn that respect.”
New hires are never easy to manage, so give them some extra space to learn and grow during this time.
Rethink Old Systems
There may be many companies barely surviving at the moment, but top-tier leaders are looking for ways to make their business thrive against all odds.
Increasing visibility, making new partnerships, promoting new products, converting new customers – it’s all in a day’s work for a high-functioning business, even during a pandemic.
“As a leader, the pandemic has given real cause for looking internally at ways to ensure that your company remains on a pattern of growth,” said Dr. Amir Yazdan, Founder of GroMD. “This is where leaders have to be innovative, constantly on the lookout for out-of-the-box ideas and ways to excel. Finding new customers during these unusual times may be more difficult, but it’s definitely not impossible – as long as leaders can be creative.”
If your business is just barely scraping by, it might be time for an injection of energy to take things into overdrive.
High achievers have a tendency to overthink things and weigh out all the possibilities to a given situation. This can help them make smart choices in life, but could limit their effectiveness when it comes to pressure-cooker scenarios in business.
This isn’t the time to hesitate, so learn to act on instinct and commit to the plan.
“You’re not going to make perfect decisions when the world is in chaos mode, but you’ve got to be confident in your decisions and follow through without hesitation,” said Kelli Lane, Chief Marketing Officer of Genexa. “Customers, employees, and peers are looking to you for leadership, so commit to your moves and make them decisively. Perfection is impossible, so don’t make that the goal.”
For some people, this might sound out of the ordinary, but decision-making is a muscle and a habit like any other.
Change Around Roles
When a crisis hits, some business leaders duck for cover and go completely hands-off at their organizations, hoping it will all blow over soon.
As we all learned in 2020, this is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. In fact, it’s an opportunity to move things around and pivot to put your company in a more dynamic and profitable position. That starts with arranging staff and setting priorities.
“The pandemic is something that no one could’ve ever expected, yet it has created particular situations that have required leaders to really step up their games,” said Timmy Yanchun, Co-Founder of LTHR Shaving. “One leadership quality that seems to really be making a difference is being able to place each team member in the most appropriate role. A good leader can see where an employee excels, and use that level of expertise to help that team member grow. This can do wonders for efficiency and overall productivity.”
Expect The Unexpected
There might be billions of people in the world, but none of them could have predicted the events of 2020. With that said, we’ve all learned a lot in the process, for better or worse.
Take some time to reflect on your own findings from the past year or so, and figure out how you can be better prepared for similar disruptions in the future.
“If there is anything we learned from this last year, it is that the unexpected can happen at any time,” said Lauren Bosworth, CEO of Love Wellness. “We’ve learned how important it is to adapt to new situations, be flexible, and learn from our experiences. Listening has been a key leadership skill that has helped throughout the pandemic- whether it is listening to Love Wellness’s customer base or listening to the Love Wellness team. It has been essential and helped us to grow as a company.”
Talk to employees, talk to customers – get all sides of the story and you’ll see things more clearly.
Lead From Within
Far too many leaders found themselves pointing fingers and playing the blame game during 2020. Could there possibly be a worse time to behave in this unprofessional way?
In the meantime, true leaders were rolling up their sleeves and jumping onto the front lines to help their teams with critical tasks to keep the ball rolling.
Which companies do you think succeed, and which failed to survive? You know the answer.
“One leadership quality I relied on heavily to get my business through the pandemic was humility,” said Brandon Werber, CEO of Airvet. “When my team had to pull all-nighters deep in the trenches to keep the business thriving, I was right there next to them. I was handling everything from support emails to doing demos and ordering food for the team. No task was below me as we were all burning the midnight oil to service our partners and clients. Don’t lead from the top, lead from within.”
You don’t need to be the “perfect leader” who does everything right, but simply getting involved more personally can help your squad out a lot.
Monitor Worker Wellbeing
What good is your business if employees are constantly stressed and burnt out? Many companies found themselves in this exact position throughout 2020, and now they’re looking worse for wear.
Hold high standards for your employees, but also be more empathetic during these tough times. They will appreciate you for it and perform better when they’re at 100%.
“We believe in always keeping our employee’s wellbeing at the forefront of our operations,” said Danielle Calabrese, COO of De La Calle. “Take an interest in their lives in and out of the office. Ensure they are satisfied in their roles. You can’t successfully run a business with employees that are dissatisfied with their work. Encouraging collaborative projects is a great way to boost productivity as well. Especially in remote work, everyone is craving human connection and interaction. Try organizing more meetings between coworkers and leaders to continue to build relationships within your company.”
People don’t forget how they’re treated when they feel vulnerable or down, so be the bigger person and lend a hand.
Stay Highly Organized
It may not surprise you to learn that many high-level business leaders are less organized than they appear. They might seem to have everything together on the surface, but they’re often one crisis away from falling apart!
“Remote work has put all of us in a tailspin, and adjusting has been a challenge in itself,” said Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie. “I’ve found that staying organized is the key to getting through it all. Focus on keeping track of every moving part of your team, making sure that the tasks that need to be completed are getting done as efficiently as possible. You have to think outside the box sometimes. Find what works best for your team as far as communication, whether it’s via Slack, Teams, Zoom, ProofHub, Google Drive, or even just email. Correspond with everyone often and do your best to keep spirits high during this time. We’re all struggling to some extent, and some workplace positivity never hurts.”
What can you do to organize work and life more effectively? This is the time to begin.
Have (Multiple) Backup Plans
2020 was the year of lost plans, and many businesses realized that they had little ground to stand on once their original strategies flew out the window.
This goes to show that one plan is never enough, and it often takes three or four backups to be completely prepared. Of course, some in-the-moment pivoting is always necessary to make things happen when all else fails.
“Leadership during the pandemic is about always having a backup plan,” said Kaz Amor, Founder of VoCe Haircare. “A great leader always knows how to pivot and adjust within every aspect of their life. Plan ahead when you can, and think on your feet when you can’t. Remote work has really shifted how we’ve gone about our operations. We’ve really seen our employees kick it into high gear.”
Is your business really ready for anything, or are you just wishing for the best? There’s a big difference.
Motivate the Masses
There are few aspects of management more challenging than motivation. Too little, and your team will stagnate. Too much, and you will quickly get on their nerves!
Like with all things in life and business, it’s about balance, and this is a chance for managers to refine their style of leadership.
“Understanding how to motivate and encourage your team is vital to performing well during the pandemic,” said Jeff Goodwin, Sr. Director, Performance Marketing & Ecommerce of Orgain. “Remote work can be challenging for many different reasons so business leaders must be able to empower and guide their team towards staying connected to their work and one another.”
The art of motivation is almost impossible to master, but it’s a skill that will never be outdated.
Empathize with Employees
Rather than separating themselves from employees and observing from a distance, great leaders need to make themselves more open and accessible to staff members in these times.
Employees might need some extra support or flexibility in their schedules, and leaders must practice compassion while still having standards in place. Once again, the balancing act is necessary to maximize productivity and engagement for all.
“One important leadership trait that can come into play is really trying to understand what your employees are going through – and why things may not always be smooth sailing,” said Rachel Jones, Head of PR at Hope Health Supply. “When it comes down to it, if you’re managing a team with a member who is being a little difficult, there’s almost always a reason for it. Most employees don’t just set out to intentionally create problematic scenarios – for themselves or for those around them. The best way is to discover the root of the problem.”
Amp Up Appreciation
When is the last time you really showed appreciation to you for a job well done. We understand that it’s harder to express that sort of thing when remote work is the norm, but it’s still vitally important to keep teams and individuals motivated.
As long as your message is authentic and timely, you can make employees feel recognized and encourage them to perform at their peak.
“As a leader guiding a team through remote work, you have to know how to compliment and recognize your team members,” said Brent Sanders, CEO of Wicksly. “So much of someone’s motivation to work comes from being rewarded, not only monetarily, but also through the validation and appreciation of their work. In a work environment as isolating as our current circumstances, it’s extremely important that business leaders are keeping an open channel of communication full of support, guidance, and encouragement.”
Realize that some people feel disengaged working from home, so that extra appreciation goes a very long way in the current climate.
The funny paradox about leadership is that it doesn’t even cross the minds of most great leaders! They are simply so focused on balancing huge amounts of daily responsibility, that others just naturally follow their lead and get inspired.
That’s the ultimate goal to strive for as a leader yourself. Focus on the work first, and the rest will come.
“Among the many things I’ve learned so far throughout running this business is that there will be many growing pains with so many things as an entrepreneur, and this certainly includes navigating leadership,” said Ming Zhao, CEO of Proven Skincare. “How do you manage to assert effective leadership while also working on your product, marketing, and finances? It is important to remember that every day is a battle and that there will always be opportunities to learn and grow, even if the process is gnarly at times.”
For business leaders, 2020 was truly the ultimate test so far. We learned that anything is possible with the right mindset, strategy, and action – even when the world is put on pause.
If you are interested in even more business-related articles and information from us here at Bit Rebels, then we have a lot to choose from.