In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, software powerhouse company Salesforce hosted a webinar featuring one of my favorite humans on the planet, research professor, public speaker, and New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown. Brown has spent the last two decades of her career studying leadership, courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has authored more than 10 books and her TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” is the 4th most most popular TED talk of all time with over 47 million views. In the Stories of Resilience webinar, Brown discussed several ways to lead by example, specifically tailored to business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is Leadership?
Brown defines leadership as “anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential.” Now more than ever, Brown invites leaders to embrace vulnerability and courage in their work culture. “It is less about who people are, and more about how they behave and show up in difficult situations.” Leadership is not something people are born with or a position people are given; leadership is cultivated. It is a learnable series of actions and choices that can be developed and nurtured, like a muscle. The more we practice leadership, the stronger our leadership becomes.
Read on for the 3 tactics Brown suggests to strengthen those leadership muscles for your business at this time.
Be Clear and Transparent
In Brown’s own words, “Feeding people half-truths…to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.” COVID-19 has unequivocally altered how we do business as we practice social distancing. Use this unique time to build trust with your customers. Make sure that your website is up to date and your hours of operation are correct. Implement a COVID-19 related banner on your website. Send out updates via email and social media.
There will be days you won’t have all the answers. Be transparent with your employees and customers. Be brave enough to say “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. Let me get back to you.”
Customers want to see how you handle the pandemic and want to make sure keeping them safe is your number one priority. Clarity and transparency implies openness and accountability. It is operating in such a way that your customers and employees can easily see what actions are performed during COVID-19 and how you perform them.
Choose Empathy and Courage Over Comfort
This walks lockstep with being clear and transparent. These times are hard. That means you’ll likely need to hold hard, uncomfortable conversations with your employees. COVID-19 has forced many business owners to close up shop or reduce their workforce, either by limiting their employees’ hours or letting them go completely.
It’s easy and comfortable to say that things are going to be okay and fill the silence with vague promises. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, giving your employees false hope. Be direct with your employees. “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
That said, courage can and should be done with kindness.
If you need to make reductions, do it in the most dignified and generous way you can. People who carry the business forward will remember how their coworkers were let go. They will grieve. They’ve lost their coworkers, friends, and partners. Give them space to feel and acknowledge their grief.
“In the face of a difficult conversation, when we see that someone’s hurt or in pain, it’s our instinct as human beings to try to make things better. We want to fix, we want to give advice. But empathy isn’t about fixing, it’s the brave choice to be with someone in their darkness—not to race to turn on the light so we feel better.”
Plan for the Future
“To lead is to be vulnerable every minute of every day.”
When Brown speaks about vulnerability as a leader, she is referring to a willingness to be present in the moment, to make hard decisions, to lead with compassion and integrity.
Imagine this time as a game of basketball. COVID-19 will shine a light on muscles you have quietly developed that you don’t get to flex all the time. You’ll explore new, creative ways to pivot and reimagine your business. But the thing about muscle memory is that it also remembers sloppy shots. Build muscle memory around what kind of leader you want to be when you come out on the other side of the pandemic.
Push yourself to be a clear, transparent, vulnerable, and courageous leader. “Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”