For senior leaders, there’s no instruction manual for leading through a pandemic. And as COVID-19 has continued, business leaders everywhere have had to adapt strategy, adjust processes, and respond to unforeseen pressures and decisions.
In episodes one and two of In Conversation with Patrick Cournoyer, we looked at the different challenges that employees and managers have faced throughout COVID-19. We’ve learned the importance of focusing on your wellbeing when working from home, and why empathy is crucial when managing a remote team.
In our final episode, we take a look at this topic through the eyes of senior leaders. I talk to Rebecca Kelly, founder and CEO of event tech business Venuescanner, as well as James Routledge, founder and CEO of Sanctus, an organisation dedicated to fostering employee mental health, on the different ways COVID-19 has impacted their businesses. To listen to the episode, hit play below.
“Leaders need to look after themselves and their own mental health. You can’t support others if you’re not supporting yourself.”James Routledge, Founder and CEO of Sanctus
5 things we learned about from James and Rebecca on leading through a pandemic
Regular honesty and transparency are critical
Soon after the crisis started impacting his business, James shared a completely transparent financial picture with his whole team, because “transparency is so important in a time where everyone is so unsure”.
“It’s better to say how it is, no matter how hard that is,” he explains. “No matter what happens in the coming months, as a leader if you respond by hiding the truth, people will remember it.”
James’ number one piece of advice for other leaders in this time is to send regular, honest communication and make an extra effort to be present in meetings to allow members of the team to share any concerns.
Some things will be out of your control
James says he has been holding some anxiety about the lack of control he has around the ways COVID-19 will impact his business economically. While, he notes, he can control the quality of his product and service, he cannot control the bigger picture, such as if a customer goes out of business.
Rebecca’s main source of anxiety has centred around understanding the government advice for businesses — and how that applies to her: “[It was] that external pressure very publicly at a government level for business leaders and owners, and the reality of us scrambling around finding out what we had access to that has caused me a lot of stress,” she explains.
The value of supporting customers and community
After the hospitality industry was badly hit, Rebecca made the decision to support her business community and open up free Venuescanner memberships to her customers.
“We’ve created a workplace called Hospitality Heroes on Slack, and introduced it to all our members,” she says. “They are now all talking to each other and supporting each other — it felt like something we needed to do, and that we’re supporting the community in a time when it’s most needed.
Looking out for your employees’ wellbeing is critical…
Throughout the pandemic, like many leaders, James has found himself worrying more about keeping his people safe and well.
Rebecca agrees, adding that setting your employees up to thrive remotely and prioritise their own self-care is crucial. “We’ve structured the day for team members to not spend too much time in front of a screen — maybe they will work for 90 minutes, then go for a run or a walk, or something away from work,” she notes. “We’ve been communicating advice around staying healthy, and making sure they’re getting enough activity and sleep.”
…But leaders need to look after themselves, too
James states that it is more important than ever for leaders to look after their physical and mental health during this time, as it can be challenging to help and support others in your team if you do not feel well yourself.
Whether that entails coaching, therapy, journaling or constructing a nourishing morning routine, leaders must focus on their wellbeing first and model good self-care habits to the rest of the organisation.