Life Stories

A leader’s dilemma: Dealing with ‘coronavirus uncertainties’ in the business

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting small businesses in a variety of ways. From the loss of business to remote work, rules are changing fast, and companies are being forced to adapt. Here is a story:

“It’s going to be a big adjustment for everyone, but together we can all make it through,” he said. He sounded hopeful about the future while admitting the future is still uncertain, “No one knows the future. But we will make it.”

He did not feel the same two days ago.  Instead, he was anxious and concerned, which was a rare sight because he is someone who doesn’t easily head into panic mode. He knew that as the economy is rapidly shutting down because of the coronavirus outbreak, many small businesses around the world would collapse.  And his company might be one of them, too.

This is not the first time the company has faced such difficulties because of unfavorable circumstances. From a small room with three employees to almost three hundred employees within a decade, the team has seen highs and lows of running a business. Nonetheless, they have always dealt with uncertainties and crises with ease.

“Running a small business is always chaotic.  And there is chaos in the crisis too.  But we see beyond the crisis, and that has worked for us,” he often tells his friends and colleagues.

But that day, he was not in his usual calm, philosophic state of mind. Whether it is the coronavirus or the upcoming changes in government rules, the uncertainty of life seemed to intrude into his current thinking and frightened him too. 

“So, why are you concerned this time?” I asked him.

He took a deep sigh and told me, “This crisis is different. We are struggling to find the right balance between being there for the clients at their time of need and ensuring our employee’s health and safety.”

He works in the healthcare industry, and data security is the top-most priority in his work. “We have taken robust measures to ensure the highest degree of data security in the office. It is very tough to replicate these securities at home. If we shut down our office, that’s it, we shut down our business.

“At the same time, we can’t force our employees to work. We are putting them in danger.”

“What next?” I asked nervously. He kept quiet.

I understood his silence. I knew he was not worried about his future. His primary concern was his employees who live paycheck to paycheck, without much savings. After all, he has embodied this mantra in his life, which is, if leaders fail, thousands will lose their jobs. And I knew, he was concerned – and rightfully so – as he simply cannot afford to continue to pay his team if revenue streams come to a halt.

This morning, I heard him speak with his management team for hours. By afternoon, he was in his usual shelf – calm, composed, and level-headed.

“Looks like you found a solution!” I commented. He laughed and replied, “No one knows the solution. But we are ready for whatever comes next.”

“Oh, really? What changed from yesterday to today?”

“My attitude,” he said proudly, “I underestimated the power of our team. Each one of them genuinely wants this company to thrive and coast through these uncertain times. They will do everything they can to help us out.”

His statement made me think. This goes back to the old saying, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business. In his business, the well-being of the employees has always been the top-most priority as they know that the company’s success is contingent upon the accomplishment of the team. Today, when the business needs them the most, the team has come together. Overnight, his leadership team came up with multiple contingency plans. The human resource team spoke with each employee, and the IT team worked extra hours to set up the system. In two days, they were ready to face any changes that might happen.

His team still does not know what tomorrow holds during these uncertain and crazy times. But they are confident that they will make it because they have a team that is willing to fight against the uncertainties till the end. Interestingly, team morale is also an all-time high as if each one of them has found the meaning in life by being altruistic in times of need.

Now that he is confident that he will sail through it, I asked him what he suggests to thousands of other small business owners like him. Below are his points:

  1. Stay positive. Positive thoughts eliminate fear and irrational thinking.
  2. Team, Team, and Team: We are nothing without the team.If you have built an excellent team over the years, it is time to rely on them now. Be transparent and tell them where you stand. You will be surprised at the level of support you will get from your employees when you need their help. 
  3. Be ready with contingency plans. If we go by the news reports, it is easy to believe that everything is uncertain, but that’s hardly the case. Be up to date about all that is happening in the world and keep thinking about your contingency plans.
  4. Don’t dwell on problems. Focus all your attention and effort on what you can do. This is the time to show your clients that you are going above and beyond to help them. If you have been consistent in providing excellent client service over the years, your clients will also understand that you are doing your best.
  5. Embrace what you cannot control. Your goal is to minimize the risk, but you still do not know what the future holds. Be prepared for anything.   

He then concludes, “When we have given it all, and if we still fail, we know we will come back again. After all, we are like a phoenix rising from the ashes. We will emerge from a catastrophe stronger, smarter, and more powerful.”

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