When good looks bad


Leading through uncertainty
by Dr. Jodi Vermaas and Blair Hildahl

Now is the time that everyone is looking at you. How have you been leading through the COVID-19 crisis? What will you prioritize? People are asking you whether you care about your employees or your bottom line. But are these leadership choices mutually exclusive?

The truth is you are in a tough spot. Not only are you saddled with your own virus and shut down, issues but you also are called to lead your teams through unfathomable levels of stress and uncertainty. Every day you wake up to the shifting reports of health risks and medical news, to quarantines and rising unemployment.

Here’s the thing. Leading your teams right now requires not only a short-term perspective but also a long-term view. Sometimes, stretching your stance to look ahead doesn’t look so good; in fact, during times of uncertainty, sometimes doing good looks bad.

Leading in a crisis is scary and unpredictable, forcing us to make new decisions and re-envision our processes. Rash or reactionary leadership will not do! Your teams need you to stand in the middle of the mess – present, listening, and ready to deliver.

You can’t make sound decisions if you are spinning your wheels. Now’s the time to listen, take in all the data, and embrace the challenge, even if you can’t solve all the problems.

First, listen to yourself and your team, but don’t heed the chatter. You built your company to success, and you know how to rebuild through the hard times. Take time to breathe and remember what’s been accomplished. You don’t have all the answers, but get in there with your teams, anyway. Are they scared, anxious, or overwhelmed? Show confidence in what you do know and help them do the same. That’s called resiliency.

We’re amazed at how often we hear people blame the business leaders, shouting “Do the right thing!” as if the goal of business is to shortchange our loyal team members. In reality, the short-term perspective tells everyone to stay home and close down businesses, while paying everyone their full salaries. Honestly, for most of us, that’s not possible. A long-term view instructs us to consider reducing budgets – even when it means furloughing team members – to ensure businesses can survive and rehire them as soon as possible.

At BASE4, we lead through the servant leadership model, which trains leaders to empower their teams and develop their professional skills to bring success and serve their communities. Serving the team doesn’t mean protecting them from the truth or doing things they can do for themselves, it means giving them tools to succeed through the toughest of times. The best tools are honest updates and professional support.

You might have to let some team members go. Times will get tougher before they get easier. Help them understand the current economic situation and unpredictability of the hospitality industry. Ensure access to online classes and training to improve their job skills. Find creative ways to allow teams to be productive at home. Be honest when you see layoffs coming and offer them assistance in improving their résumés or offering recommendations. Don’t allow anyone to give up; inspire them to find the good and lean into their futures.

Empathy must run deep as we stand on our values. Being empathic does not mean apologizing. Instead of regrets, lead with your values. Do what matters with grit and resolve.

Every leader we know has a company mission statement or values. Go back and read yours; then, use them. At BASE4, the “4” stands for our values: humility, honesty, respect, and fun. These values help us lead in the face of adversities from the coronavirus and socio-political pressures, economic downturns, and groupthink.

Don’t let others tell you how to live according to your values. You must listen, care, and empower your teams – and still make the tough calls. Standing on your values doesn’t mean you forget what you know. It means you use what you know through the lens of your values, supporting both your people and your business to the best of your ability.

From our global offices, all of our architects, engineers, and designers are working from home, laughing together over our funny workspaces filled with our kids, pets, and relatives. Even though we can’t solve every problem today, we can be present and empower our teams.

Strong leaders serve their teams while still making the hard decisions to get through the storms intact and ready for the turnaround. Soon, when markets roar back into action – because they will – your firm will be ready to surge, bring back your furloughed team members, and win, proving that what looks bad in the short run often is the long-term true good.

Dr. Jodi Vermaas is Chief Leadership Officer of Base4. Blair Hildahl is Chief Marketing Officer/Principal of Base4.


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