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Being a good leader is about acting with integrity, being open and honest, and staying positive. That’s always been true, but it’s especially important during challenging times. Early in the pandemic, in March 2020, I was diagnosed with COVID-19—sick for 3 months, I ran my company from my bed for 30 days and had to work through long-haul symptoms for an additional 60 days after that. Almost a year to the date later, I got sick again, this time with one of the COVID-19 variants.
While the pandemic has been terrifying enough, your boss getting COVID-19—not once, but twice—could easily intensify fear for both employees and clients. Each time I was sick, I was completely transparent; I informed my employees and my clients, updated them regularly on how I was doing both mentally and physically and made sure that all concerned knew how my work and the company would be impacted. We have used this extremely challenging year+ to create stronger personal relationships, and I always invite my employees and clients to be open about what they’re going through, how they’ve been impacted, and how they’re doing. Through it all, I stayed hopeful and conveyed positivity about my health, my business, and the outcome of the pandemic. This mindset and deep inner strength saved me and my company and will continue to serve us as the world changes yet again post-pandemic.
The second time I was diagnosed with COVID-19, all of the positivity I had originally shared was returned many times over and it was heartwarming when my employees checked on me and offered words of encouragement. I know that my never-wavering confidence the first time, eventual recovery, and positive outlook in general, had really helped them to feel more assured. Making the conscious decision to be hopeful and using that positivity like a life preserver allowed my employees, my clients, and my company to weather the storm of the pandemic. There’s also a silver lining in there that far too many have missed: if we’re going to be a team, then we must be a team together, and that means being in it together.
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I am convinced more than ever now that it’s leadership's job to share calm. Not chaos, because chaos is so easy to find—turn on the news and you'll find more than anyone could want. A good leader can recognize the moment they are in and does what it calls for: see their people through. Despite all the challenges of the pandemic, I know that our best way forward now, in this new world, is always with transparency, compassion, human understanding, and hope. As a leader, don’t be afraid to encourage your employees and thank them for all of their hard work. Know and remember that they are doing their best through unprecedented hardships and challenges. And make sure they know you aren’t going to leave them behind—your team really is stronger together.
Mistakes to avoid post-pandemic
- Failing to act with integrity: A good leader’s words will always match their actions. Otherwise, their word is essentially meaningless and just that: words—nothing more. Acting with integrity and honoring your word is essential for both building and maintaining relationships with employees and clients. It is impossible to build meaningful or lasting relationships if someone does not know if you will do what you said you would because there is no foundation on which to build them.
- Lacking transparency: Not being transparent will always be problematic, because employees and clients, especially those with long-standing relationships, instinctively know when something is off. Trust is too essential for relationships to risk compromising it by being opaque. If you aren’t open and honest in every aspect of your company—especially your relationships—you're planting seeds of distrust that will undermine your relationships and as a result, your business goals.
- Panicking: Any time there is a crisis, 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 be theirs as well. Remember your reaction suggests what you believe the outcome will be, so you have to make sure your words and actions are aligned and communicating a message of positivity and hope. This doesn’t mean sugarcoating the truth or lying—it’s about the mentality with which you approach the situation. It is possible to acknowledge hardships and challenges without succumbing to panic and fear. So be honest and do your best to remain positive.
The pandemic has brought to light what was always true—the future is completely unpredictable. A good leader realizes that fear of the unknown exists in everybody's mind, and does their best to alleviate it wherever possible for both their employees and clients. A good leader also is aware that control is only an illusion and that the future always will be unknowable. This is why understanding that you and your team are in it together and making the conscious choice to go forward with hope is so essential. Post-pandemic does not mean an automatic return to the world before the pandemic, but regardless of the challenges that lay ahead, your team can lean on each other and lift one another up.
How leadership can move past the pandemic with integrity
- Clear and effective communication is essential: When I was diagnosed with COVID-19 (both times!), the only way my company survived was because I used clear and transparent communication. Each time, I was sure to let my team and my clients know about the diagnosis, how I was feeling and kept them updated so that they knew about any effect my illness would have on my work. By doing that, my employees and clients could make informed decisions about their needs and communicate those with me as well.
- Honesty: In some ways, it would have been easier to not be so transparent and honest with my employees and clients about my diagnoses. Disclosing health and medical issues often isn’t done in a professional setting, at least not traditionally. Also, by being so open, concerns arose that understandably needed to be addressed, even though I was very sick. However, by being honest initially, both my team and clients knew I would be truthful going forward, and that if I said something, I meant it—my words and my actions were in line with each other. So while being open about my COVID-19 diagnoses may have caused some initial concern, in the end, it also helped alleviate it because my employees and my clients knew they could count on me to be honest, even when it was the harder thing to do.
- Cultivate inner peace: The real goal and the true measure of success is creating inner peace. Being happy with yourself and your life will help you to seek and cultivate the good in others. While having money in the bank is easier than not, it can’t buy you anything that truly matters—love, happiness, or good health. Realize this sooner rather than later, because life will teach you this lesson eventually—what matters most is just not for sale, and it never will be. Inner peace and knowing yourself, your strength, your resilience, and your principles is also what allows you to navigate all of life from a place of calm and integrity—you have survived the hard times before and you know that you will again. While being able to gingerly speak about a post-pandemic world feels encouraging and better than when we were in the darkest days of the pandemic, the truth is, life has permanently changed, and your employees and clients will continue to need you to be the light in the storm. The hope and positivity from your inner peace can easily and generously be shared with employees and clients to help them when they need it the most, which they inevitably will in this new unpredictable world.