The pandemic of COVID-19 has introduced an unprecedented level of uncertainty, and being able to move forward despite it is key. In the third round of the “Marketing Roundtable Series," Rachel Tipograph (Founder & CEO of MikMak) and Anda Gansca (CEO of Knotch) hosted a discussion about what it takes to be a strong leader while navigating the challenges presented by COVID-19. Panelists from JP Morgan, WW, VaynerMedia, NEA, and goop shared their strategies and experiences during this time of crisis. Here’s what they had to say:
Planning and decision making
“The ability to deal with uncertainty - that is a critical attribute with or without this crisis,” one leader shared. However, “there's never going to be a point when you have things figured out - even in a crisis.” Control what you can, make the decisions that need to be made, be flexible, and plan accordingly.
In addition to responding in the short term, now is also a great time to be looking towards the future. “It’s a good time to compartmentalize. Figuring where your company will be in 6 months, is where your intellectual horsepower should be.” It’s inevitable that the economy will come back, and when it does, you want to be in a better place as a brand.
Ultimately, leaders have to make and handle decisions that are “emotionally difficult." One panelist describes how they have been “narrowing down prioritizations, making hard decisions on what not to do”. Another panelist warns against letting other people take the fall for difficult choices. “If you have tough organizational decisions that need to be made, don't let your HR person do it. Do it yourself.”
“Showing your humanity is a sign of strength.”
Strong leaders are needed now more than ever, and a crisis can serve as an opportunity to learn and hone the qualities that define a strong leader. “It's impossible to forecast what’s happening right now”, one panel noted, “so control what you can control right now.” Communication at this time is vital, as making people feel safe is essential. This means you have to not just be clear in communication but also demonstrate an understanding of people and what they are thinking about.
“Some people attribute vulnerability with weakness - it’s exactly the opposite.” Empathy and humility show that you are human. “You need to be empathetic with your team. Good leaders need to be able to absorb fear.” Another panelist advises to “lean into your employees and clients to show that you are feeling the hurt as well.” Strong leaders will be able unafraid to be authentic and confront reality, allowing them to make connections with people on an emotional level during a time of shared trauma.
It’s also important to remember your own limits. Part of good communication is being transparent and honest that you are human. One panelist reminded, “You’re allowed to say ‘I don’t know.’ If we don't come out on the other end of this with lessons learned, it would be a true tragedy.”
Take a break.
Part of maintaining wellness for yourself means you have to pace yourself. “This is going to come out in waves, there is more tough stuff yet to come.” As one panelist puts it, “The new normal does not mean working 12-14 hours a day.” Other panelists recommend taking breaks, or “walking meetings” to slow things down.
Between constant communication, galvanizing your team, and making hard decisions, dealing with COVID-19 will be exhausting, and it might not get better any time soon. “This is not going to be like one day you get back and everything is great again, as a leader, you have to sit here and say that's ok,” says one panelist. It'll be hard work, so it’s important to take moments for yourself. “When you are at home at night, just know that you’ve done your best.”
Catch us every Thursday, as MikMak’s Rachel Tipograph and Knotch’s Anda Gansca host their COVID-19 insights webinars. Join our mailing list to stay up to date.