If you would have told me 2 months ago that we would be in the middle of a global pandemic and that schools, businesses and even houses of worship would be closed, I would have thought you were over exaggerating. This is surreal.
At the beginning of March, I was boarding a plane to attend the first of two back to back conferences. My mother was worried about my country travel and attending two large meetings, but both were important to me professionally, so I did not want to cancel. I assured her that I would take precautions, and I did. I wore a mask on the plane, I sanitized my seat on the plane and my hotel room. I refrained from hugging or even shaking hands with friends and colleagues that I met with. I washed my hands, washed them more, and then washed them more.
As the second conference (which was the National League of Cities, the largest organization of municipal elected officials in the country) was ending, we started receiving very detailed briefings on the spread of the Coronavirus and what it would mean to life as we know it.
As I returned home, we began meeting to discuss the spread of the virus and what actions the local and state leaders needed to take to ensure the safety of our community.
As an elected official, I have led through some difficult times…. The Great Recession of 2008, the 1000-year flood of 2015 and now the Coronavirus pandemic. Each of these situations presented their own unique challenges, but although challenges are unique, there are some specific lessons learned by all about leading through uncertain times.
- Maintain a positive attitude
You always must be optimistic and maintain a good attitude, regardless of the situation. If you have a negative attitude or are frightened, others will notice and likely take their cues from you. Think about how you can make the best of the situation and focus on that.
During this time of Coronavirus, people are suffering, and it is easy to get discouraged by what we are experiencing. But we must focus on the positives. During this time of stay at home orders and social distancing, people are finding ways to reconnect with the ones they love. As a leader, you must inspire others to remain positive and that attitude will spread.
- Embrace Opportunities that Challenges May Bring
Regardless if you were prepared for the challenge or not, you need to push through it to come out on the other side. Remember that with every new challenge comes opportunities. Look for a way to use the challenge to grow and build.
The unexpected closure of small and large businesses has forced us to operate in a new way. In the last few weeks, businesses have found ways to connect with clients in new ways and provide service in different ways. Remote working and virtual meetings have provided different opportunities for more productivity and collaborations. Keeping your eye out for opportunities and being ready to act can be a game changer. There may be some much needed new ways of doing business that are better than the way you were doing things before.
- Over Communicate
The biggest stressor during uncertain times is not knowing what is going on and why. Communication is key to make sure everyone is armed with information about what is going on and can ask questions and share their feelings. And if you do not have answers to questions, be honest and admit what you do not know. That honesty and transparency will keep the trust people have in your leadership.
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, I have been doing livestreams on my Facebook and Instagram pages. I have openly shared information I have on the outbreak and what the city has been doing to respond to the needs in our community. I have provided as much information as I can and when I do not have the answers, I have invited expert guest on my livestreams who can answer my viewers’ questions. This communication has gone a long way to ease people’s anxieties and reaffirm to them that we are all in this together
- Remember to Put People First
I have long been a fan of international personal finance guru Suze Orman. Her show used to be how I ended my week on Saturday nights. She would always end her show with her signature line, “People first. Then money. Then things”. Great leaders understand that it is people who make anything successful, whether it is a business, a community, or your family. We have all heard the quote by President Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
In times of uncertainty, people must be your priority. When people feel valued and cared for, they do their part to help navigate unchartered waters.
- Keep Leading
Being in a leadership position does not automatically make you a leader. And just because you have led when times are good, does not automatically mean you are prepared for times of uncertainty.
There is a biblical story that I have heard many times. It is about a young lady driving along in a car with her father. They drive into a heavy storm and the young lady asks her father what she should do, and he tells her to keep driving. Along the way, she sees other cars beginning to pull over as the storm gets worse. She asks her father again what she should do, and he tells her to keep driving. As she continues driving, visibility is getting limited as she sees more cars pulling over as well as big 18-wheeler trucks pulling over. She tells her father that she is going to pull over because she can barely see but he tells her again to keep driving. The young lady keeps driving and soon the storm began to ease. After a few miles, she had driven out of the storm and the sun came out. At that point, her father instructs her to pull over. She does and he tells her to get out of the car. The two get out of the car and he tells her to look back. As she looks back, she sees the cars and trucks that had pulled over, still sitting in the storm.
Whenever I hear this story, I also think about leading through uncertain times. Sometimes, even when you can not see the road in front of you, you must keep moving. If you stop leading, you and everyone else depending on you will stay stuck in the storm.
This Coronavirus, and the next crisis that may come your way, is not easy but real leaders are built for times such as this, so just keep leading.