4 Lessons on Leading Through Crisis

Through a global pandemic that affected every business, some leaders are emerging from this crucible more agile, energized and better prepared to guide their organizations through recovery and beyond. This month, we showcase four such leaders and the opportunities they saw in adversity to make their companies stronger, more resilient, and better positioned for success.

Lesson #1: Make your people a priority
From Jim Hemmer, CEO of CreditXpert’s perspective, the pandemic required leaders to place greater focus on people. “As leaders we’ve had to become more human-centric. The pandemic was such a significant, multi-dimensional, leadership challenge. We dealt with fear, uncertainty, the logistics of being remote, people’s emotions – about their health and the health of their family members. All these factors were in play. Leaders had to balance not only the impact on business, but also the impact on people. For me, it was about maintaining our culture and supporting people through their personal challenges when that moment hit.”

Taking good care of employees also leads to better customer relationships, notes Hemmer. “If you treat employees well, your customers will feel it. If you don’t treat employees well, you can be customer-centric all day long, but your customers won’t feel it. You can’t fake authenticity.”

Lesson #2: Be quick to address fundamental needs
For David Henshall, CEO of Citrix, meeting people’s primary needs up front was key to keeping employees calm and focused. “We began by reassuring employees that we were ready to provide support and resources. We declared that everyone’s safety and wellbeing was our first priority and that everyone’s jobs — including those of temp workers and contract workers — were protected. We provided $1,000 in financial assistance to everyone so they could work at home as effectively as possible, whether it was buying a monitor, a new chair or standing desk, taking care of family, or donating to a friend.”

“We wanted to be transparent and address the things that we could control,” notes Henshall. “And we’re continuing to provide people with support — mental health services, concierge activities — doing whatever we can to reduce friction in their lives.”

Lesson #3: Embrace ideas from all levels of the company
While some businesses have struggled with making online meetings productive, Doug Milner, Operating Partner, Riverside Company, saw virtual collaboration as a business advantage. “Conventionally, we’d always gotten people together in person. By virtue of that format, we had to limit the size of the group, so generally the meetings were attended by CEOs and CFOs. By shifting meetings to an online format, more people could participate and share best practices. That meant more good ideas, more input, and more diversity. Plus, there was better buy-in from the organization because more people shared in the decision-making.”

Milner hopes that virtual collaboration will be an ongoing practice for the business. “This change is beneficial and more inclusive, and I hope it continues. While it’s a major pivot for the business, I don’t want to lose it and revert to the old days.”

Lesson #4: Values based Leadership
Geoff Champion, Chairman & CEO of ChampionScott Partners, believes that clarity of purpose, respect and honesty are the fundamental values leaders must practice each day, and especially during times of crisis. This commitment to a values-based life was engrained in Champion as a young man attending West Point and has served to guide him in both his personal life and in business. “When you foster interpersonal and intra-organizational trust, you give people confidence and a greater sense of purpose. This diminishes their stress and fear of the unknown and frees them to focus on day-to-day people and business challenges.”

Champion recommends keeping things simple and transparent during challenging times. “A major crisis, such as the pandemic, heightens both individual and organizational stress. In such times, people need to trust their leaders. That starts with the CEO setting the example, not only for the management team, but for every person in the company. My counsel is to lead by example and set expectations through word and deed. When you take responsibility — for yourself and then your team — people know what they’re signing up for and, equally, how to be responsible for themselves, their teammates and their families.”

Leadership Primed to Meet the Moment
Although organizations everywhere were severely tested by the pandemic, one thing is clear: the best leaders will always find the will, ingenuity, and determination to be crisis-ready and meet the moment — and the business world will be the better for it.

Guided by their values, the four leaders profiled here found a way to meet the moment. By putting people first, committing to their wellbeing, and enlisting their collaboration, they were able to forge a strong path to recovery for their employees, as well as their companies.

About ChampionScott Partners
ChampionScott Partners is a leading retained executive search firm focused on delivering leadership solutions for technology and technology-enabled companies, globally. Throughout every search we undertake, we apply the strategic insights of an experienced search partner, the operating skills of an internationally expert management team, and the recruiting abilities of a premiere executive search firm. For more information, please visit www.championscott.com or contact Jackey Bennett.