Lead Well

· by Herb Dew

Herb is the CEO of HTI. He founded HTI in 1999 along with John Knight and David Sewell, and remains heavily involved in the organization today.
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How are you leading through the COVID-19 crisis?

As I write this, it is April 7th and the news just reported that the United States had crossed 11,000 deaths due to the COVID-19 crisis. Most of these deaths were in the last 5 days. All schools are closed, most plants are shutting down, social distancing is becoming the norm, unemployment is spiking, the stock market is erratic. Basically, each 24-hour period feels like 2 weeks. Or longer.

I started a journal on March 20th. I always regretted not tracking my thoughts and decision back in 2008-09 and decided that I would do so through the COVID-19 crisis.

Hard times separate “the wheat from the chafe”. In studying leadership responses, I have been open minded yet studious as I see how leaders at all levels deal with what is likely to be the hardest time all of us face in our lifetimes. I have seen unknown leaders lead heroically, and well-known leaders flounder aimlessly. I’ve seen leaders respond out of fear, or callousness, and some out of ignorance. I’ve seen ordinary people communicate with calmness and truth under pressure. Others respond with self-interest and avoidance. Books will be written after all of this. And new great leaders are emerging from this tough period every day.

How do you navigate these times as a leader? What are you learning? Do we understand the impact we have on those we lead?

I wrestled with this early on and decided that I would force myself into a “mantra”, to create a rhythm for my team. I would honor that approach and request they do as well. As this COVID-19 crisis went from hourly to weekly, I added some requests.

Initially we started with these 4 daily commitments. We reviewed these each morning:

  1. Communicate Frequently
  2. Manage the next 24 hours
  3. Be calm
  4. Lead well

We were committed to communicating to all our employees frequently, and honestly. This would be foundational. It has kept our extended team plugged in and reduced fear produced from a lack of control. We simply focused on what was in front of us – the next 24 hours. Not catastrophize, not project out to next week, but simply manage what was in front of us. This kept us focused. We would be calm. We would project a level of confidence because we actually WERE calm. And this caused our team to early on trust that we were managing through the COVID-19 crisis well. And finally, we would “LEAD WELL”. We would use all of the first three elements in our individual interactions. And we would work together to lead well. Help each other. Communicate as one. Be available to our people. Be sensitive, empathetic, and yet strong.

I then added 2 more to the list:

  1. Anticipate the next 60 days
  2. Act fearlessly

It was important that we moved out of “daily crisis” mode and looked ahead. Not TOO FAR out. Just far enough that we could begin to function more strategically. And as we did look ahead, the risk and variability of the next few months unfolded. Thus, the need to “Act fearlessly”. Not recklessly. Not without empathy. But simply be willing to do things and make decisions that are out of our normal comfort zones. And to challenge each other along the way. And make hard decisions if necessary, for the greater good.

If you are leading a team, or you’re a senior leader at your company, are you grounding yourself? The approach you take, the vibe you give off, is magnified ten fold in a high tension situation like we face in these weeks and months ahead. So “Lead Well”, “Be Calm” and “Act Fearlessly”. Your people will see it.