Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic
“In business, do we – women – somehow judge miscalculations, errors in decision-making, ethical transgressions and the like more harshly when the culprit is a woman?”
I saw this question posted recently, and I have been pondering it ever since.
COVID-19 and leadership go together like orange juice and toothpaste – yucky. Anyone in a leadership position during this pandemic understands the pure frustration of trying to be “people first” in tandem with business survival.
The economic implications and aftermath are going to leave a trail of destroyed businesses and people in its wake. There are very few decisions that can be made without some sacrifice or discontent from someone within the construct … wherever or whatever that may be. Without question, this has been the most difficult time in my career to be in a leadership position, and there are many days I’d like to stay in my bed, pull up my covers and wait for it to be over.
However, that is not an option. Instead, I get up at close to the same time every day, follow my normal routine to the extent that I can, trek to my office most days and think about how we keep everything moving in a direction. Notice I am not saying “the right direction” because there are many unknowns and conflicting predictions about opening the economy.
While watching this all unfold, I have been paying attention to the vast pile of judgment applied to pretty much anyone in any leadership position. Everyone has an opinion, and it seems no matter who you are or what you do, the general public has conflicting views on how you did it. The criticism is fast and furious my friends, especially thanks to social media. Am I right?
“If you’re not also in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” – Brené Brown
Most businesses are probably considering layoffs, furloughs or some type of payroll relief. We do not like to think about putting money over people, but it’s a harsh reality of business. Furthermore, they’re completely intertwined. During this crisis, I have been involved in more heart-wrenching decisions than I can count. It’s part of being in a leadership position, and I fully understand why that is.
But as a woman, I want to write about how that feels. Most people who know me well, know that I hold my feelings close to the vest with a handful of close confidants who likely understand my emotional IQ better than I do.
Let’s pull back the curtain a bit, shall we?
I wake up multiple times throughout the night worrying about our company, our employees, our clients and our community. I mull over scenarios about how this will look once we are through it. I try to draw on past experiences, pay attention to multiple resources for information, talk with colleagues.
I know without an ounce of doubt that we will get through this. I also know without a doubt that we will look different on the other side. I am grateful to work for a stable company that’s successful while living our brand values. However, not everyone understands that in the same way.
There are many COVID-19 aspects that are out of our control as business leaders. Some things are mandated federally, some are mandated by state and local governments. Employees may feel fear and frustration with their leadership and management teams. It is easy to be critical. Simply watching comments on social media quickly shows how divided people are on literally everything.
It is probably good for most of us to take a step back and put ourselves in their shoes. Decisions during these times are complex and incredibly difficult. We must weigh many factors. As much as everyone says, “people first,” it means various things. At the end of the day, staying in business and helping the business survive IS a “people first” mentality.
I don’t think the questions at hand or the decision-making during this pandemic are any harder for women than men. We’re all dealing with the same things – uncertainty, conflicting information, livelihoods, company health and survival. My guess is that women leaders will experience harsher criticism than their male counterparts. That is a continual problem that begs for a solution.
I heard an analogy the other day very fitting for our circumstances: We are NOT all in the same boat. We are in the same “storm,” but not the same boat.
I contend that we are not exactly in the same storm. As we see with actual storms, they hit some states harder than others – some communities may be annihilated while others will be barely scathed. Such as it is with businesses. Some businesses will be crushed, others will do just fine. A very lucky few may even thrive. Some companies are in luxury boats with deep pockets to give their employees a lot of support. Others are in small, handmade boats that haven’t been in the water long enough to know if they’ll make it. And there’s absolutely everything in between. Companies and businesses will suffer through this. Some will not survive. All are having to make difficult decisions.
As a leader, your decisions will be scrutinized. You will be judged. As employees, you will not have insight into everything considered to make a decision. As a woman, you need to be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture.
Do yourself a favor: Before you talk about someone or criticize a decision, think about what might have gone into it. Think about what that person might have gone through to come to that conclusion. If you’re in a leadership position, you will do things that are not popular. You will do things that people will think are “mean” or “heartless.”
For all of us, we need to courageously rise above the wake of COVID-19 and build forward. If you get knocked down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the arena.