Every leader around the globe has faced significant challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainly is almost unbearable, decisions never more consequential, and the call for leadership louder than ever. Like so many others, I cycle through feelings of positivity and excitement for the future and then slump into feelings of exhaustion and dread. One day, I jump out of bed certain that I can accomplish anything, and then next, I want to hide under the covers. While feelings of ebb and flow are common, they seem to be more amplified these days.
Reflecting on the past six months, I am struck by how much I have learned as a leader and I’d like to share a few of these insights for your consideration and feedback.
1. Sometimes there is no wrong or right answer; there is a high likelihood that some of my decisions will be both at the same time
The dichotomy of leadership is real and never more present in decision making today. I have come to accept and embrace that seemingly opposing truths can exist at the same time. The uncertainty around what the future might bring requires good decision making but doing so is incredibly difficult. I have gotten comfortable that each decision I make may be right for some reasons and wrong for others and that no matter what, I can pivot if needed.
2. A strong team and a solid culture can survive just about anything
This year has been incredibly challenging. In the first half of 2020, StoneAge went through a significant company-wide reorganization, an encryption attack that took down our IT systems for a month, the COVID-19 pandemic, acquiring a company, layoffs and pay cuts, and more. And we are knocking it out of the park.
Sure, we are still dealing with the challenges that a broken healthcare system and economic shutdown have brought, but we have bounced back from every single roadblock with resilience, grit, and teamwork. Has it always been pretty? No. Has morale taken a hit? Yes. But our team shows up day in and day out, working together to support each other and exceed our customers’ expectations. And each day, we realize that we aren’t just surviving, but in many ways, thriving. This would be impossible if it weren’t for a solid culture and strong teammates at every level of the organization. I am incredibly grateful for my amazing team.
3. Bold moves won’t always be understood or appreciated but making them is imperative to come out the other side stronger
At the beginning of the pandemic, we made the weighty decision to go through with an acquisition. Countless nights were spent wondering if I was making the right call. In the end, I trusted my instincts.
Based on our due diligence, we knew the company was healthy and that we could absorb the hit if our projections didn’t play out. Our vision for StoneAge was crystal clear and there was no doubt that this acquisition fit strategically and would help us reach our goals faster. These data points, combined with my instincts telling me to make this bold move, compelled us forward. And six months later, there is no doubt it will pay off.
But not everyone understands the decision; some wonder why we chose to spend money on an acquisition when we are cutting expenses and forecasting conservatively. Some are asking why we aren’t hunkering down. My response is one of dichotomy: you must conserve and invest at the same time. Just do it in the right places. Making smart, well thought out bold moves will set you apart when this is all said and done.
4. Mental toughness is key; I’ve never been tougher
To be highly successful, a leader must be mentally tough; it’s what separates those who are good from those who are great. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve worked hard to overcome setbacks, mistakes, burnout, and stress. I have pushed aside doubt and banished negative self-talk. Sure, there have been a few meltdowns, but when they pass, I realize how therapeutic they were. I know I will be stronger because of the challenges, not despite them. This is the definition of mental toughness.
5. That being said, it’s okay to feel scared, overwhelmed and to say, “I don’t know”
I have said “I don’t know” more in the past six months than I have in all my years of leading combined. This is uncomfortable; leaders are supposed to have all the answers, right? While deep down, I’ve always known this isn’t true, it’s hard to stand in front of your team and tell them that you don’t have answers to all their questions. That I am muddling along, just like they are, trying to do the best I can while feeling overloaded, fearful, and worried. I’ve cried on my husband’s shoulder, overcome with the weight of the responsibility I feel for my family, employees, and company…and all of humanity.
And it’s okay. In fact, it’s normal.
We all are going through this together, sharing emotions of pain and grief, hope, and optimism. We are all human, not that different from one another. I’ve learned to embrace the insecurities that these challenges have brought out in me, aiming to move through them with grace, gratitude, and resolve.
It takes serious fortitude to lead in times like these and it’s an honor to have the trust of my team, family, industry and community. This trust is something I don’t take lightly. Being able to honestly reflect upon and share experiences is what allows us to come out of crises like these stronger. Thanks for allowing me to share mine. Now I’d like to hear from you. What have you learned about yourself over the past six months?
Thanks for reading. Please comment, like, and share!