For leaders, it's time to step up

Joe Scarlett
Joe Scarlett

This is one of the most unusual times of our lives. And now is when leaders should step up like never before. Our people, peers and even superiors need to see us as calm, mature and engaged — even in the face of tragedy. True leaders will not panic, but rather move forward as balanced business managers and executives.

We all know that the quality and cohesiveness of our team is critical to long-term success. Whether your team is still with you or on furlough, it is essential to stay plugged in to provide as much grounding and consistency as possible. In all likelihood your people are feeling extraordinarily insecure right now and need to see you as rock solid.

Hopefully, you will all be back working together in a normal environment in the not-too-distant future. But during this most trying period, your team needs your guidance and demonstrable ways to reflect on your actions with pride and respect.

You can never over-communicate in a crisis.
Now is the time to communicate like never before. Listen to everyone’s concerns and react only when you are confident in your words and actions. In tough times sincere listening may be the very best thing you can do. Remain calm, open and honest. Don’t keep secrets. Communicate news efficiently in an evenhanded manner — don’t act excited or scared. And to reduce the rumor mill, try your best to ensure that news gets to everyone about the same time.

Misinformation can create chaos. Don’t share anything but the undisputed data. If some information floating around sounds fishy, use your time to uncover the facts and then share with your team. If you think it is advantageous to offer your trusted opinion, make doubly sure that everyone understands that it is indeed your view. Build greater credibility by communicating honestly, fairly and, whenever possible, quickly.

If you were required to furlough some or most of your staff, find ways to stay in touch. They still need to hear from you. E-mail is easiest: Send regular messages of fact and hope. Let your people know you are concerned about them and their families. Try mailing a weekly status sheet to their homes. Sign each one and, if you can, add a few words of your own. If you have time an occasional phone call can be very powerful for building loyalty and cementing the long-term bond.

Stay current and connected.
Stay plugged in to current events surrounding coronavirus. The goal is not to be an authority on the pandemic, but rather to have a sharp, high-level understanding of its impact on people and business. At this point facts matter most; gossip will only fuel anxiety. Listen carefully to be sure people are not getting wound up over misguided notions or disparate details.

Stay on top of daily developments in your organization — and your industry. Clear, consistent and factual communication of this information will build confidence in the future and may allay common fears.

Your demeanor during uncertain times means everything in the eyes of your people and those in your organization. If you appear stressed or panicked, people around you will lose confidence and look elsewhere for leadership. On the other hand, if you are seen as stable, mature and calm in spite of all that is happening you will earn confidence and respect. Now is the time when quality leadership shines through and can be a bright spot for all.

Plan for the future.
Share everything you can about both current and future events, particularly those that can build confidence in a return to normal. But be sure to paint a realistic, not overly optimistic, picture of what’s to come.

It is never too early to begin planning a return to normality. Start on it now. Engage your people: Decide what items of business need to get done first and who will do them. Then draft assignments and schedules for the first few weeks back to work. Let your people see that there is a future and you are all planning for it.

Your team is looking to you for purpose. These are the times when true leadership rises to the surface. Be calm. Be clear. Be compassionate. Be the ultimate communicator.

I have been through several wars, 9/11 and a few massive market crashes. And I can say with confidence that this pandemic has been the most rapid destabilizer of all. Yet, in my opinion, we will emerge from this setback, probably earlier than the pessimists say, and stronger than ever.

Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company. For more on leadership see, Or write Joe at [email protected].

More Blog Posts In This Series