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C0VID-19: Gamechanger for Business Leaders, Managers, Employees

By Lisa Woods (1648 words)
Posted in Leadership & Teambuilding on March 29, 2020

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Are you freaking out yet? Whether you answer Yes, No or Maybe, chances are your employees answer YES!…therefore you need to be a calming force during these difficult times. Here we will tackle what that means for you, and what actions can you take to move your team forward through this chaos.


Many in our workforce today have never faced a crisis like this one. Those of us who have years of wisdom….can offer some advice based on personal experience. I’d like to share some of mine.


There are two experiences that come to mind. How we dealt with them, prospered through them, and learned to prioritize what was important, are all lessons that can be applied today as we all work to get through this unexpected, unprecedented crisis.


The first example happened early on in my career; my first job out of college. I was a marketing manager, about two years in. One day, the factory burned down. Decisions had to be made way above my pay grade…the answer was yes, rebuild, but that will take time and not all employees. What does that mean?


Experience #1: Overcoming the Fire


            Employee Perspective: Do I need to stay home? Do I wait around or look for another job? For me, I was in my early 20’s, not a lot of responsibility, therefore flexible with my time. There were other employees that needed long term reassurances due to career perspectives and family responsibilities. No matter our situation, “what’s next?” was on all of our minds.


            Leadership Perspective: Total workforce needed to stay home, only a select number of employees needed to work, but whom and on what? Back then there was no work from home option. There was a product shortage with no end in sight. Would customers go elsewhere? They had to. Would they eventually come back? This was unknown and dependent on leadership’s response. There would be a run on product from our warehouses. How do we manage that? How do we handle what comes next?


Here’s what happened: Leadership reached out to all employees and said stay home. If you need to find other employment, that is understood. If you want to wait it out on unemployment, we will take you back, but we don’t know when. If you are interested in being part of a very small task force, willing to do anything asked of you and work around the clock, we will consider your interest…space is limited.


These were crazy times. I was on that task force. We worked in a trailer for several months until some office space opened 30 minutes away. We immediately reached out to our competitors who were anxious to help. They provided us with their product and we added our label to it. We created special labels that acknowledged all the competitors involved in the product. We notified customers that we would be able to continue to fulfill orders with the interim product so that they did not need to find other sources; didn’t need to create new relationships. Most stayed with us. We rebuilt the business behind the scenes. The business flourished. It was the actions that we took, the way we built teams, the way we communicated internally and externally, and our ability to think and act outside the box.



  • Build a response team based on interest and abilities-avoid the status quo.
  • Be willing to do what it takes no matter what that looks like.
  • Look to leadership to provide an open and honest perspective, plans and options.
  • Communicate both internally and externally.



Experience #2: Uncertainty During & After 9/11


Employee Perspective: On 9/11 nobody knew what was happening. Nobody understood the gravity of the situation. No one knew how to act. So they kept working, whispering, waiting for leadership to provide direction. After we learned that the second tower was hit, it was clear that this was intentional. It was clear that everyone was afraid. It was clear that leadership needed to respond.


Leadership Perspective: We don’t fully understand what is going on. It’s in New York City, not here. We have customers to answer to; business must go on until we get more clarity on the situation.



Here’s what happened: Leadership did nothing, but wait. There was no discussion, no direction. There was no precedent for this type of fear either. Personally, I believed this was not the right approach. I had first person experience working on the city’s strategic plan for my MBA final project. I knew the city was going to shut down as a result of any terrorist attack. I knew that we needed to act or all of our employees would be stuck, away from their families, for an undetermined amount of time. I went into the President’s office and explained what I knew. I recommended we let employees go home and shift calls to some of our other facilities...but to no avail. Next I asked some members of senior leadership to join me in the President’s office (I was a middle manager at the time). Once again I explained the situation. Some of the senior leadership hesitantly agreed with me, but agreed it was the President’s decision. Again, he reiterated that it was too soon to act. So I told him…and I’ll never forget the moment as so many of us remember exactly what happened that day. I said that I understood his decision, but I am making my own here. I’m going home and on my way out I am going to walk the building and let people know that they can make the choice to leave too. They need to understand that they may not be able to go over the bridges to get back home if they stayed. I told him that if I’m wrong, I will happily provide my resignation in the morning…and I left. He didn’t try to stop me nor the others that followed. The majority of the office left with me and we got out 15 minutes before the city closed down.


When faced with uncertainty and the risk associated with it, it’s important to understand the needs of your workforce. I respected those needs and people trusted me because of it. A few years later…when that same President’s office became my own…I made sure to keep that trust going. As a team we were aligned, we were agile and had a mutual trust to act in the best interest of all individuals, as well as the bottom line.



  • Build a mutual respect between leadership and employees so that proactive and reactive decision making is embraced at all levels.

  • In the face of chaos listen to those around you who may have experiences other than your own.

  • Never freeze when a decision is warranted. Even when that decision is to wait, make sure to communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t leave your employees hanging.


We see three common threads throughout these examples:



1)    Clear and direct communication from leadership.

2)    Leadership’s ability to create an agile workforce.

3)    Leadership’s respect for workforce concerns each step of the way.


These common threads are keys to calm short-term unrest, and ensure long-term success.


We are all faced with short-term unrest right now. Even those of us who are still working, are working under unclear circumstances. The worst thing we can do is disconnect leadership and employees. Finding that two way bridge will be the thread that ensures we get through this.


Here’s what you can do to build that bridge: 

  • Establish formal & regular means of communication with your entire team to keep everyone up to date and on the same page.

  • Say thank you to both groups and individuals. Thank you for their work, dedication and their trust in you.

  • Ask how each member of your team is doing, with work load and with the overall situation.

  • Ask what you can do to support your team members, employees and employer.

  • Don’t judge those who are having difficulty with the transition. If you have employees who have never worked from home before, they may need additional support learning how to interact from afar…lead by example.

  • Provide constructive feedback on employee work. When something isn’t perfect, or needs to be changed, guide members of your team, don’t criticize.

  • Be a calming force.

  • Be patient, you don’t know what fears and uncertainty your workforce is facing in their personal lives.


And finally, my best recommendation for leaders and managers during this time of chaos is to treat every member of your workforce, no matter their role, as your equal. Showing them that you can lead, by their side, instead of from above, will be a refreshing perspective for everyone. A perspective that hopefully lasts into our new economy as things rebound. WE will be more agile, more productive, more innovative, more informed and ultimately more successful because it. This is a true test of great leaders & managers, as well as an opportunity for all of us to show our potential.


Good luck!




{#/pub/images/lisa5.jpg}Written by Lisa WoodsPresident ManagingAmericans.com   

Lisa, a thought leader in Business Management and Leadership, founded ManagingAmericans.com in 2011 after 20+ years successfully leading and driving growth in the corporate world. Her objective is to help mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors in a “do-it-yourself” learning environment using unique & practical tools to support the process. Lisa’s career spans from Global Sales & Marketing to General Management of Multinational Conglomerates. Today she continues to consult small business owners through her private practice, as well as teach leaders and mangers as an Adjunct MBA Instructor for Southern New Hampshire University. Lisa's publications include: • 4 Essential Skills for Leaders, Managers & High Potentials © 2013 • The Cross Functional Business: Beyond Teams © 2015 • Action Item List: Drive Your Team With One Simple Tool © 2016 • Small Business Planning Made Simple: What To Consider Before You Invest © 2017



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