By Eric Yaverbaum
Being a good leader is about acting with integrity, being honest and transparent, and remaining positive in the face of daunting challenges. At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I was diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent 90 days running my company from my bed. Earlier this year, almost to the day, I contracted one of the COVID-19 variants.
If the world weren’t scary enough during the pandemic, your boss getting COVID-19—not once, but twice—could easily generate fear for employees and clients alike. Both times, I made sure to be completely transparent and inform my employees and my clients that I was sick, update them regularly on how I was mentally and physically feeling, and ensure they were always in the know about how what was going on with me would impact my work and the company.
We have used this unbelievably challenging time to build strong personal relationships and I encourage my employees and clients to be open about what is going on in their lives and how they have been impacted. And, through everything, I remained hopeful and projected positivity about my health, my business, and the eventual resolution of the pandemic. This mindset and strength saved my company as the scariest and most uncertain days of the pandemic consumed the world—and it will continue to serve us through any challenge that comes our way.
With the second diagnosis of COVID-19, the positivity I had initially shared was returned many times over, as my employees checked in and offered words of encouragement. My confidence the first time, eventual recovery to health, and general positive outlook surrounding the pandemic itself, has really helped them to feel more assured at such a terrifying moment in our world history.
Consciously choosing to be hopeful and using positivity like a life preserver both for myself and to share with others is what allowed my employees, my clients, and my company to weather the storm of the pandemic. There’s a secret silver lining in there as well that far too many have missed: if we are going to be a team, we must be a team together, and that means being in it together. Transparency, communication, compassion, and hope had to be the tools that got us through, and in those early days of the pandemic, with me confined to my bed, they were pretty much the only tools I had available—and they did the job perfectly.
I remain convinced that it’s leadership’s job to share calm. Not chaos, because chaos is all too easy to find. Just turn on the news and you’ll find more than enough. A good leader recognizes the moment they are in and does what needs to be done: see their people through.
Despite all of the challenges of the past year and four months, I know that our best way forward is with openness, compassion, human understanding, and hope. As a leader, don’t be afraid to encourage your employees and thank them for all of the hard work they are doing. Know and remember that they are doing their best. And let them know you aren’t going to leave them behind—your team really is stronger together.
Mistakes Good Leaders Avoid in a Crisis:
1. Failing to act with integrity. A leader’s words must always match their actions, otherwise their word is effectively meaningless and just that: words—nothing more. Acting with integrity and doing what you said you would do is essential for building and maintaining trust with employees and clients. If someone doesn’t know whether you’ll honor your word, then you can’t build meaningful or lasting relationships, because there is nothing to build them on.
2. Lacking transparency. Not being transparent is problematic, because employees and clients instinctively know when something is off, especially when there is a long-standing relationship. Trust in relationships is too essential to risk compromising by being opaque. If you aren’t open and honest in every facet of your business—including, but especially your relationships—you’re planting seeds of distrust that will undermine both your relationships and as a result, your business goals.
3. Panicking. Any time there is a crisis, either on a local or global scale, a good leader will be there to ground and take care of his employees and clients. They will instinctively look to leadership and if your reaction is alarmed or uncertain, then that will also be theirs. Remember that your reaction signals your belief about the outcome so you have to make sure your words and actions are communicating the right message—one of positivity and hope. This doesn’t mean you should sugarcoat the truth, and it certainly doesn’t mean lie—it’s about the mentality with which you approach the situation (you can acknowledge hardships and challenges without giving into panic and fear). So be honest: if you say everything will be okay, but then your actions communicate that you do not believe this, that discrepancy will cause panic and fear as well.
The truth is that the pandemic has brought to light what was always true—the future has always been unpredictable. A good leader knows that fear of the unknown exists in everybody’s mind, and does their best to alleviate it wherever possible for their employees and clients. A good leader also knows that control is nothing more than an illusion and the future has and always will be unknowable. This is why knowing that you and your team are in it together and making the conscious choice to go forward with hope is essential. Things might get tough, the world can be scary, but you have each other to lean on and lift one another up.
How Leadership Can Navigate Challenging Times with Integrity:
1. Clear and effective communication is key. When I was diagnosed with COVID-19 (both times!), my company was only able to survive because I used clear and transparent communication. Both times, I was sure to let my team and my clients know about my diagnosis, how I was feeling, and keep them updated so that they knew about my illness and any effect it would have on my work. That way my employees and clients could make informed decisions about their needs and communicate those with me as well.
2. Honesty. In some ways, it would have been easier if I had not been so open and honest with my employees and clients about my diagnoses. Speaking about health and medical issues often isn’t done in a professional setting, at least not traditionally. Also, by being honest, concerns naturally arose that rightfully and understandably needed to be addressed, even though I was very sick. However, by being honest from the beginning, both my team and clients knew that they could count on me to be truthful going forward, and that if I said something, I meant it. My words and my actions were in line with each other and so while being honest about my COVID-19 diagnoses may have initially caused concern, in the end, it also helped alleviate it because my employees and my clients knew that I was telling the truth, even when it was the harder thing to do.
3. Remain positive. In all situations, no matter how bleak, there is always a silver lining, and learning how to both find it and communicate it effectively is essential. While life may be scary and unpredictable, the focus does not need to be (nor should it be!) on that. Just as quickly and easily as life can go badly, it can also turn back around. A good leader is always the light in the storm for their team and will hold hopefulness and positivity even when everyone else has lost it.
4. Remain empathetic and compassionate. It is always the leader’s job to steady the ship. While there was quite clearly a lot happening in my own life both times I was sick with COVID-19, my employees, my clients, and their families were also going through their own unique and personal experiences. While it would have been easier to just focus on myself and my health, I also needed to be cognizant of and compassionate about what everyone else was going through as well as the challenges they were encountering. Being able to hold that compassion brought us all closer together, and made us a stronger team.
5. Cultivating inner peace. The real goal and true measure of success in life is having inner peace. Being happy with yourself and your life will empower you to seek and cultivate the good in others and while having money in the bank is certainly easier than not, it can’t buy you love, happiness, or good health. If your first thought when waking up this morning wasn’t, “thank you,” you might want to reconsider your priorities. Don’t get too old before you realize this, because life will teach you this lesson one way or another—what matters most is simply not for sale and it never will be. Having inner peace also allows you to navigate the storms of life from a place of calm and integrity—you know yourself, your strength, your resilience, and your principles; you have gotten through the hard times before and you know that you will get through them again. That hope and positivity can easily and generously be shared with employees and clients to help them when they need it the most.
About the Author: Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, is a communications, media, and public relations expert with over 40 years in the industry, having co-founded Jericho Communications and served as President from 1985 until its successful sale in 2006. Eric has worked with a wide-range of top-of-their-industry clients, including Sony, IKEA, Progressive Insurance, Domino’s, Beachbody, H&M, and fitness guru Jack LaLanne. Eric is also a bestselling author who literally wrote the book on public relations – the industry-standard bestseller Public Relations for Dummies.