Leading in the Time of COVID-19

How does one lead in times of crisis? We are now seeing the truth to the saying that in periods of intense uncertainty are when true leaders are revealed. In the latest Smart Meetings #HospitalityStrong webinar series, “Courage Required: Leading in the Time of COVID-19,” Tammy Blount-Canavan, FCDME, executive vice president principal, destination and travel practice at Fired Up! Culture, described what characteristics are often seen in leaders, as well as what forward-thinking action leaders should be implementing during this period.

What Does a Leader Look Like?

“Being a good leader isn’t easy, while the leader’s actions might be scrutinized when things are going bad, it is their leadership qualities that shine through the worst of times,” Canavan said.

Every great leader harbors a handful of shared qualities, some of which are: clarity, decisiveness, courage, passion, humility and compassion. It’s in times of such as this that these qualities are needed more than ever.

Clarity: Great leaders are clear and concise. There is no question of their vision and what needs to be accomplished. Generally, very few people know what they want and much less how to get there. They will gravitate towards those who appear to have a clear picture in mind. Clarity leads to great achievement; once a great leader has made up their mind, they don’t hesitate to commit, it’s all hands on deck.

Decisiveness: Not only do leaders not hesitate to make a decision. They’re consistent in how they make those decisions and the reasons they make them.

Courage: Facing fears and moving forward regardless is a boldness not universally held by all. Courage is walking toward the challenge and facing it head-on. It’s deciding that you’re going to do something about the situation you’re in. It’s deciding that you’re going to move things forward. It is being unwilling to be ruled by your fear.

Passion: Passion fuels inspiration. The best leaders exhibit boundless energy and passion for what they do and people are going to be excited to follow that.

Humility: While confidence is a very attractive trait in leaders, arrogance is not. Leaders admit when they’re wrong and they take criticism as an opportunity for growth and opportunity to look in the mirror and ask, “What could I do differently or better?”

Compassion: “Compassion might be the most important quality of all,” Canavan said. Lacking the other five traits may be frustrating, but a lack of compassion is the that really drives people away. Revealing your humanity and showing that you care for others is going to draw them to you much more powerfully than any other trait.

Leaders Take Action

Having the characteristics of a leader is important, but it is just as important that leaders take action. That action comes in various forms.

Keep calm and carry on: Keeping calm is one that is likely understood by many but carrying on—especially in the current climate—might not be so simple. “We’re not just carrying on with business as usual. It just simply doesn’t exist at this time,” Canavan said. But carrying on can be interpreted as whatever you’re doing to push yourself forward, such as reading this right now.

Educate: This applies to your home, as well as your work. Keep your colleagues apprised—and if appropriate—involved in what you’re doing. The mandate to self-isolate refers to your physical situation, not societal. In fact, Canavan said she is engaging in more social activity than ever before.

Clarify roles: Roles may have been clear in your previous environment, but it might be a little bit blurry now. Even if responsibilities haven’t changed, restating them for clarity is going to be more helpful than you might think.

Respect emotions: Expect that unfamiliar emotions will surface for you and for others. You can’t underestimate the effect that this time is having on people’s mental state. Canavan urges people to respect the whirlpool of emotions people may have right now. What people are feeling is very real to them, even if you feel differently.

Be flexible: If you’re in the events industry, you’re already pretty adept at adaptation. Event professionals have always been required to respond to surprises and unanticipated circumstances, so while this event is unique, event professionals are at a slight advantage.

True Leaders Care for Others

Whether you carry the title of boss or manager or not, you can still play a leadership role. These are some of the skills required to step up now.

Truth: As a leader, one should always speak the truth. Strengthen the confidence that you have built over time with your team by delivering the most accurate information at your disposal.

Show your heart. Leaders need to make themselves somewhat vulnerable. This moment calls for a response from you that mentions some of the hard business realities that weigh so heavily on you or your organization. Because of the potentially life-threatening health risks, response to your team members must focus fully on compassion.

Give hope. Carefully craft messages about your expectations for team members. Communicate regularly and paint a vision for how you plan to manage whatever happens.

Stress and Anxiety Responses

Taking action in any form—whether it be finances, family or personal—can greatly help your state of mind. Making a plan to move forward with a new career or learning plan, a strategy for cohabitating or organizing the garage—whatever resonates with your situation—will help fend off feelings of helplessness.

Stay positive. Changing the language in your mind from “I’m stuck at home” to “I’m safe at home” or “I have to be with my family for the rest of time” to “I get to be with my family.” can transform your mood. Smart meeting professionals learn to cultivate a habit of gratitude.

Write it down: Writing down your stressors can be helpful in tackling them, but making notes about what you’re grateful for is even more powerful. Start with something simple, such as having food to eat and a home to shelter in.

Find Inspiration and Share It

Amidst all the bad news, there remains much good. Find inspiration in good things that people are doing, in the courage of the frontline care workers and others who risk their health to ensure that our essential needs are seen to, share it as broadly and liberally as possible.

“Very few moments in history unite the entire globe, Canavan concluded. “Use this time to reset and rethink your future; this presents an opportunity to become the best version of ourselves and therefore the best leaders for our industry.”


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