Stepping Up in a Crisis - Leaders Set the Tone for the Entire Organization
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Stepping Up in a Crisis - Leaders Set the Tone for the Entire Organization

Stepping Up in a Crisis - Leaders Set the Tone for the Entire Organization

How we lead right now says so much about us. In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we're made of. One of my favorite quotes is "Tough times don't build character, they reveal it."

You can't pick and choose when you want to lead. We didn't choose to become a leader because it was always going to be easy. We wanted to be the person who others could count on to take control, who could handle and navigate through any situation no matter its size. Now is the time to step up. Your employees are counting on you. They believe in you.

It is imperative to confidently show all our employees that this is temporary and will pass. We need to appreciate the anxiety and stress every employee, fellow leader, vendor, and customer is having during these difficult times. Morale is bound to be low, and we need to do our best to reduce their fear and anxiety.

I personally have found that I am at my best when my companies and I are being challenged or fighting for survival. In a strange way, I am actually comfortable with and become more energized by the obstacles in our way. That is my nature. While the others are panicking and making short-sighted decisions, my confidence level increases.

I act like I have been waiting for this day; like I knew it was coming and we are poised and ready for it. Everyone in our company is in the best place they could be. We will not only survive; we will thrive as a result.

Now is not time for your "best"

This may sound mean or unsympathetic, but one of my least favorite sayings is, "I gave my best." To me, it is an unacceptable crutch. I don't want to hear it. My personal feeling is this: when the goal is to accomplish greatness, to go where no one or team has gone before - your best won't be good enough. Your best is what you were capable of in the past. You have to figure it out, try a thousand ways, and if need be try another thousand ways, innovate, lose sleep, get around it, find loopholes, research, sweat like you never have before.

Every extraordinary accomplishment, invention, or revolution was not a result of someone giving their best. Somehow that person or group found a way to do what no one else could do. They did the impossible. They did what no one had ever done before.

Communicate like never before

Social distancing doesn't mean social isolation. More than ever, your employees need to hear more from you - and not just through emails and texting. Call them, have biweekly Zoom calls. I love what Verne Harnish said in a recent blog: "I strongly suggest your #1 KPI this week is how many minutes of talk time (not texting) you get with colleagues, advisors, friends, and extended family each day - dramatically up your talk time." I highly recommend signing up for his weekly insights.

Two months from now, not one employee will complain by saying, "My boss was so annoying." In all our communication, we must be 100% transparent, especially with our team. Make sure your employees know the sacrifices everyone is making, including the company - tapping into lines of credit, cutting executives' salaries, etc. While we don't know when or how soon "normal" will return, let them know your short- and long-term strategies. (Also see this blog by Jess Pischel, How To Increase Morale and Collaboration Virtually.)

Refer to your core values

Also to your mission, purpose, and service vision statements. This is why you created them: these are the foundation of what your business was built on. Pull them out, talk about what they mean during times like this. Walk the talk and constantly be sharing examples of how your people are modeling them through times like this.

This isn't happening to us, it is happening for us

Find the gift. When our leadership team originally met to discuss how to address ways we were going to handle this pause in our business, I will be honest, I was prepared to talk about how to reduce the financial strain on the company and the potential of reducing payroll. However, something that came up in our conversations were all the great initiatives and ideas we have come up with in the past that we have never had the time to develop. These ideas and innovations are critical to the evolution and growth of our brand - new revenue streams, better processes, education, training, products, etc. - stuff we should have done years ago, that by not having done them has hurt the potential growth of our business. This actually got me excited that we can use this time in such a positive and productive way so when we return to business as usual, we will be in so much better shape. To the point, I believe that by 2021 we will be significantly better positioned for growth than if the crisis had not taken place.

What are you doing to be smarter than yesterday?

I ask this question every week to my customer experience consultants. What are you consuming in your area of expertise to make you smarter today than you were yesterday, to ensure you are the smartest person doing what you do? Now more than ever we have the time. Whether you are working virtually or temporarily not working, you need to invest in yourself and your future. What books and articles are you reading? What podcasts are you listening to? What videos are you watching? This is the #1 way you are going to innovate, reinvent yourself and your business. You should be spending a minimum of 2 hours per day consuming valuable information.

How can you capitalize on this time and position yourself and company to be better for it?

 John DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is President and Chief Revolution Officer of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or

Published: June 16th, 2020

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