I used to think that great leaders had the answers; now, I think great leaders grapple with difficult questions, especially those that elude easy answers.
I started my business a few months before the pandemic. Since then, almost every month has brought a massive global event, natural disaster, or significant social movement. Whenever something big happens, some CEOs speak out; some don’t; and Twitter comments on both groups.
I don’t think there is a “right” way to lead during difficult times. Instead, as a leader, the most important thing is to find a style that is authentic to you. and is what your team needs. Here are some guidelines that have helped me find my own leadership style during difficult times.
Put on your oxygen mask first: It seems obvious, but the world impacts you too. As a leader, your job is to absorb stress from your team. But you can only do that when you have resilience and energy. During tough times, I double down on my tools like meditation, executive coaching, therapy, and the real basics — sleep, exercise, and time with loved ones.
Share your process, not just the answer: Are you saying something? Share the organizations you donated to? Keep Calm and carry on? Discuss with your team how you approach these issues. This opens up a conversation and allows your team to share what they want from you. It also lets people know that they are not alone in going through difficult times.
Reiterate the resources: Hard times are exactly when your team needs to be reminded of resources. Even if you feel like you’ve shared ERGs, mental health tools, and other resources, now is a good time to remind your team of the support they have and make it easy to access it.
Allow differences: One of my team members might find it very calming to spend the first few minutes of a Zoom call talking about what’s going on in the world. For another, it may be a waste of energy. There is no perfect way to handle these valid differences. Instead, create a culture where people feel comfortable voicing their preferences, providing feedback, and assuming positive intent when a colleague takes a different approach.
I’ve read many surveys with stats like “over 50% of millennials want their company to take a stand on social issues.” It’s really interesting, but it also means that a lot of people don’t want their company to take a stand. Even in a small business, it’s impossible for everyone to agree on the right approach.
Remember that your “fat” is not someone else’s fat: Based on a million different factors, what I consider the most important and urgent news is probably not what anyone else considers the most important. I served in the military, so I had been passively paying attention to the war in Afghanistan since I served there in 2010. Last year when the United States pulled out, I felt that the rest of America was suddenly paying attention and had very strong opinions. Besides watching the terrible human tragedies unfold, it was strange that people asked me about the war.
It can be frustrating to feel that people should be paying attention to something when they aren’t. But it’s also an opportunity to broaden your perspective and learn what your colleagues are paying attention to.
There is a wrong answer: Performative positions are not the way to go. The “right answer” is really about the process of giving feedback, listening, and accommodating individual differences. But there’s a wrong answer, and it’s a stereotypical process that spits out a performative position. It would sound like this: A problem pops up in the news cycle, senior management, without input from the rest of the company, gets together and says, “We should say something, or it will have the look weird,” and then we issue a statement. on social networks. Once the news cycle dies down, we get back to business as usual.
While there’s no simple checklist that will get you through these unprecedented times, we hope these guidelines will help you and your team determine which approach is best for you. By going through the iterative process of checking in with your team and learning what works, you will build a culture of feedback, which is the foundation of a healthy company culture.
It may seem scary to share some of your own uncertainty with your team, but I think Paul English is right: “People will follow confidence, but they will be loyal to vulnerability.”
Roxanne Petraeus is co-founder and CEO of Ethena.