5 Strategies for Leading Through The Uncertainty Of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a testing ground for leaders around the world. Leadership is always important, but especially during times of crisis. When each day brings new challenges, the choices leaders make can have a tremendous impact on outcomes, positive or negative.

It is normal for people to lose focus during a crisis; uncertainty tends to undermine people’s motivation and morale. The leader’s job is to remind people of the long-term vision; to give them hope and the promise of a better—or at least back-to-normal—tomorrow.

As we move through this global pandemic, now is a good time to review and respond wisely to the five stages of concern people have during periods of change:

  1. Information concerns – In the absence of clear, factual communication, people tend to create their own information. Rumors abound and create confusion. That is why it’s so important to take charge of the conversation. People want to know whatever you know, even if it’s no different than what you knew yesterday. They want to know what is changing and why.

Response: Communicate verified facts early and often. Provide clear direction. Even if there’s no change in the status quo, keep communicating.

  1. Personal concerns – People wonder how change will affect them. If you don’t permit people to express their feelings about what’s happening, these feelings will persist. Yet if you allow people to deal with what is bothering them, in the very process of grappling with their feelings, their anxiety often goes away. “How will this change impact me personally?” is the question foremost in people’s minds.

Response: Keep two-way communication lines open so that people can talk about their concerns.

  1. Implementation concerns – At this stage people want to know how to perform in the face of the change. What information is needed? What are the tools, plans, and strategies for the immediate future? Have enough resources been allocated?

Response: Involve people in finding ways forward. Since they’re the ones who will be implementing any new plans and strategies, their insights will be crucial, and you’ll need their buy-in to succeed.

  1. Impact concerns – Once people’s anxiety about the first three stages are handled, they begin to wonder about the impact their efforts are having. Are things getting better? Are the strategies working? Are we going to be able to sustain this effort? Leaders can keep people engaged and motivated if they provide encouragement at this stage.

Response: Focus on the positive impact of people’s efforts and recognize their successes.

  1. Refinement concerns – At this stage time has passed and people have had a chance to see what is and isn’t working. Their concerns now focus on improving systems and processes. What have we learned that we can leverage? How can we do this better or faster?

Response: Now is not the time for leaders to drop the ball! Continue to practice the leadership strategies outlined in the five stages of concern above.

Good leadership not only can reduce the negative impact of a crisis, it also can make an organization stronger. For example, during the business slow-down after 9/11, the leadership team of our company resisted the kneejerk response to lay people off. Instead, everyone earning above a certain threshold took salary cuts. We convened a special meeting where we invited the entire staff to brainstorm measures the company could take to maximize income and cut costs. Not only did the company make it through the crisis, it thrived. When business started picking up again, we were still fully staffed. This gave us a business advantage, since we didn’t have to spend time hiring and training new people when the economy recovered.

There is no better time to lead at a higher level. Remember, our job as leaders is to serve, not to be served. Let’s start by serving our people and responding to their concerns, because they are our number one customer. Together, we’ll get through this.

Are You an Effective Collaborator?

This week is our company’s Channel Partner Conference here in town. What’s a channel partner, you ask? It’s someone who owns their own company and sells our training programs to organizations with 2500 people or less. This conference is a beautiful example of collaboration between our people and these good folks. We work together to help each other win.

A few years ago, I wrote a book with Eunice Parisi-Carew and Jane Ripley called Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster. We wanted to show people how they can break down silos within their organization and work together to achieve successful results. We created an acronym we call the UNITE model. The letters stand for five elements everyone in an organization needs to put into action to create and sustain a collaborative culture:

  • Utilize differences;
  • Nurture safety and trust;
  • Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals;
  • Talk openly; and
  • Empower yourself and others

How would you rank yourself as a collaborative leader or worker? Below is a list of questions, sorted by each category in the UNITE model, that you can ask yourself to assess your strengths and weaknesses regarding collaboration. Answer Yes or No to each question and keep track of your answers.

Utilize Differences

  1. Do you believe everyone has something to contribute?
  2. Do you ensure everyone in your group is heard?
  3. Do you actively seek different points of view?
  4. Do you encourage debate about ideas?
  5. Do you feel comfortable facilitating conflict

Nurture Safety and Trust

  1. Do I encourage people to speak their mind?
  2. Do I consider all ideas before decisions are made?
  3. Do I share knowledge freely?
  4. Do I view mistakes as learning opportunities?
  5. Am I clear with others about what I expect?

Involve Others in Crafting a Clear Purpose, Values, and Goals

  1. Is my team committed to a shared purpose?
  2. Do I know the purpose of our project and why it is important?
  3. Do I hold myself and others accountable for adhering to our values?
  4. Do I check decisions against our stated values?
  5. Do I hold myself and others accountable for project outcomes?

Talk Openly

  1. Do others consider me a good listener?
  2. Do I share information about myself with my teammates?
  3. Do I seek information and ask questions?
  4. Do I give constructive feedback—and am I open to receiving feedback?
  5. Do I encourage people to network with others?

Empower Yourself and Others

  1. Do I continually work to develop my competence?
  2. Do I feel empowered to give my opinions during idea sessions, even if I disagree?
  3. Do I actively build and share my network with others?
  4. Do I share my skills and knowledge with other departments?
  5. Do I believe my work is important to the organization?

Now give yourself one point for every Yes answer.

A score of 21 to 25  is outstanding! Keep up the good work!

A score of 17 to 20 is very good. You are definitely on the right track.

A score of 14 to 16 is average. Keep working at it.

A score of 13 or less is poor. Pay attention—there is lots of room for improvement.

In which area did you score the most Yes answers? In which area did you score the least? What actions can you take to improve your skills or attitudes? Did your results surprise you? If so, how?

Remember: None of us is as smart as all of us—and collaboration really does begin with you. Regardless of your role, you can make a difference in helping create a culture of collaboration within your organization. Collaboration is a wonderful thing to see—and even better when you are part of the experience!

Let’s Celebrate Love!

I love the month of February because on Valentine’s Day, we officially celebrate love.

A few years ago, my colleague Michele Jansen sent me a wonderful thing. A group of professional people posed the question “What does love mean?” to a group of children. The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone would have imagined. See what you think:

“Love is when someone hurts you and you get so mad, but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore, so my grandfather did it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too.”

“Love is the first feeling you feel before all the bad stuff gets in the way.”

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore, but then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

Aren’t they wonderful, all these great sayings from kids about love? “Your name is safe in their mouth.” “Start with a friend you hate.”

Love is essential to good leadership. As my wife, Margie, often says, “Leadership is not about love; it is love.” When love enters into your decision making, you’re on the right track.

For too long, people thought love and business were mutually exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth. When love extends to your mission, your values, your people, your customers, and the products or services you create, you make the world a better place.

So, let’s celebrate love this month—and every month!

Keep a Positive Perspective on Today

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it is to have a positive perspective and live life in the present. I have a journal I read frequently where I have written inspirational thoughts as well as motivational quotes. I try every day to live by these three positive thoughts:

  • You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.
  • You become an adult when you realize life is about serving others rather than being served.
  • Life is about significance. Making a living is about success.

To me significance is about making a difference in the lives of people you touch every day. Success—doing your job well—is important, but it’s not the meaning of life. As I continually say:  Life is all about who you love and who loves you.

I also am inspired every day by a wonderful saying attributed to Stephen Grellet, a French-born American Quaker missionary: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” What a great perspective this is—if you can do some good or be kind to someone, don’t wait—do it now.

After the big football game last Sunday, I reflected on when I was part of a panel in Dallas many years ago with Tom Landry, the late, great Dallas Cowboys coach. If you ever watched Landry when he was coaching, he was the picture of calmness no matter what was happening. A man in the audience asked him, “How do you stay so calm in the midst of this crazy game of football?” Tom’s quick answer was this:

“Staying calm is easy for me, because I have my priorities in order. First comes God, then my wife, then my family and friends, and finally, my job. So if I lose on Sunday, I have a lot left over. Unfortunately, I see some coaches who are devastated when they lose because winning is their whole life.” He really knew how to put winning and losing in perspective.

When I met Don Shula, legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins and my coauthor on Everyone’s a Coach, I found out he had the same philosophy as Tom Landry. Don’s wife and family were always center stage for him before winning. I’ll never forget once when I was visiting him, the Dolphins had a very important game and they lost. I was concerned because Don and I had a big television interview scheduled for the next day. But much to my surprise, when he arrived at the studio he was very upbeat. I asked him how that was possible after a major defeat. He said, “The philosophy I’ve instilled in our team is that we have only 24 hours after a game to either celebrate a victory or bemoan a defeat. After that, our focus has to be on the next game.” Talk about living in the present, not the past, and then planning for the future.

During the opening ceremonies for Sunday’s big game, it was great to see Don, at age 90, on the field smiling and waving to the crowd. He was being recognized as one of the 10 greatest coaches of all time. I called him a few weeks ago on his 90th birthday and said “Happy birthday, youngster!” He immediately replied “I can still kick your a**!” Now there’s some perspective! Ha!

One of the fun things about arriving home from a trip is the greeting I get from our fabulous little dog, Joy. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that “dog” spells “God“ backwards. I think it’s because dogs behave the way God would like us to behave—they focus on the present. They don’t worry about the past—yesterday is over. They have little concern for the future—tomorrow is yet to come. They stay in the present and enjoy every moment. Dogs are living, breathing guides to a positive perspective on life. Then why can’t dogs live longer? The best answer I’ve heard is that if you gave out unconditional love 24 hours a day, you’d be exhausted, too!

Thanks for permitting me to reminisce about all these things. I hope you have a wonderful day focusing on the now. Keep your “I love yous” up to date. And never forget that life is a very special occasion. Savor every moment!

You Haven’t Hit Your Peak Yet!

Harvey B. MackayMy friend Harvey Mackay has a brand new book out this month titled You Haven’t Hit Your Peak Yet! The title is a consistent message from Harvey’s work that goes all the way back to when I first met him through the Young President’s Organization (YPO).

At age 27, Harvey had purchased and was president of a small, failing envelope company— the MackayMitchell Envelope Company—that later grew into a $100 million business. At that time, YPO would boot you out when you turned 49 because, after all, it was the Young President’s Organization. When Harvey was getting close to that age, he started panicking that he was going to have to leave YPO.

I told him, “Harvey, you know so many different things. Why don’t you prepare a speech or two and do presentations for a couple of YPO chapters and see if they like it?” So he did—and they loved his presentations. So he became a YPO resource after he was 49.

Next I said to him, “Harvey, you need to write a book to share all your wisdom.”

He said, “How would I do that?”

I said, “Start by recording the thoughts that you have. Once you have a draft, I’ll help you get a publisher and I’ll write the foreword.” And that book was Harvey’s first mega bestseller, Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.

Book coverHarvey’s new book, You Haven’t Hit Your Peak Yet! is an opportunity for a new generation of people to experience Harvey’s wisdom. He writes about many things including how to deal with adversity, how attitude makes all the difference, and how to be persistent in setting goals and developing trust.

In the book, Harvey also shares what he’s learned from other successful people like Lou Holtz, Sam Walton, Peter Drucker and John Wooden. In fact, Lou Holtz wrote the foreword. He also shares my belief that if you stop learning, you may as well lie down and let them throw the dirt on you because you’re already dead. That’s what the title of the book is all about—whatever your age is, you haven’t reached your peak yet!

The thing I love about Harvey’s writing is that it is always very practical and useful. It’s not theoretical and up in the air. It’s down-to-earth stuff that you can get hold of and use in your life.

You can learn more about You Haven’t Hit Your Peak Yet! here.

Oh, and here is one more thing that makes this a fantastic opportunity: Every person who orders Harvey’s book by noon on Friday, January 31, will get two additional e-Books: “The Harvey Mackay Network Builder” and “Harvey Mackay’s ABCs of Success.” All you need to do after ordering You Haven’t Hit Your Peak Yet! is send an email to harvey@mackay.com and mention you learned about the book through Ken Blanchard. No proof of purchase is necessary!

Harvey is one of my favorite people. I just love his energy and excitement. I hope you’ll check out his new book.