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Why The Wartime CEO Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, something unexpected abruptly changes your world of work forever. As a leader, your employees, clients and vendors are depending on you to bring your business through this tough time.

I can’t tell you how many founders/CEOs, at the start of this pandemic, told me, "It’s time to be a wartime CEO." This reflects that you as a leader have to be fundamentally different and change who you are. That’s just not the case. The best type of leader you can be is your authentic self. The worst thing you can do for your team, company and stakeholders is to pretend to be someone you’re not.

Yes, you’ll need to adjust your actions and strategy based on this new reality, but that doesn’t mean you have to change who you are. Instead, follow these steps to give your business the best chance to survive and thrive.

1. Start with empathy.

Acknowledge the reality with your team, communicating early and often so they don’t fill the silence with their own stories and fears. Let the team know it’s OK to be feeling whatever they are feeling. Be open, honest and direct with them, sharing your thoughts and feelings, too.

It’s up to you to show up for your people, to listen to them in times of crisis and recognize that everyone handles stress, change and loss differently without judging one way or another. It’s critical to allow your people the space to feel and be seen and heard.

2. Focus on what you can control.

When the crisis hits, you’re not sure what the impact will be — your mind spins with questions of layoffs, cost cutting and all the "what ifs" of an uncertain market.

For me, this was the first week of quarantine. It was overwhelming, scary and a bit manic. My head filled with worry and stress about the future. Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t control — like how long this will last, what clients will drop off and what prospects I’ll lose — I chose to focus on what I could control.

I dove into our financial analysis and models to assess medium, bad and worst-case scenarios for projected sales, accounts receivable, expenses, etc. In reforecasting our projections, I was now empowered with an updated model of the economic situation so I could confidently plan and make educated decisions on cost cutting, layoffs, furloughs, etc. This method is what Tim Ferris calls "fear setting," where you look at the worst-case scenario and plan from there. The process took me from feeling scared to centered and focused on what we needed to do next.