The coronavirus pandemic is posing extraordinary challenges for leaders and has given rise to a myriad of articles such as “What Good Leadership Looks Like During This Pandemic”, “The Most Essential Leadership Skills during the COVID-19 Crisis” or “Leading in a Pandemic” etc.  However, how do the fundamental tenets of strong leadership differ during COVID-19 vs. any other time?

A few months ago, a classmate shared a map of the “The Oldest Company in (almost) Every Country . . . that is still in business.”.  The oldest company in the world was Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd in Japan, operating since 578 AD.  From the Black Plague to the Spanish Flu, from world wars to disruptive technology, during chaos or peace, in my humble opinion, the principles of strong leadership remain constant.

Develop and Nurture a Culture of Trust 

Lack of trust leads to inevitable poor employee engagement and performance.  Why?  If there’s fear in speaking the truth, alerting of mistakes and taking risks towards innovation, how valued and motivated will people be to be their authentic best?  In Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, he tells a story of one oil rig at the Shell Oil company.  Employees were gathered to simply talk about their lives and concerns.  Although oil rigs are known to be masculine places where sensitive emotions are disregarded, these meetings formed bonds and established trust.  The meetings proliferated throughout the company, resulting in an overall reduction in accidents by 84 percent. 

Model Courage to Lead the Vision

During any crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of courage can lead to reactionary, short-sighted decisions resulting in long-term consequences to the overall health of employees and the longevity of the company.  The reality is, a company must be profitable.  That is an obvious statement.  However, why must having courage to lead the vision and profitability be mutually exclusive?  It takes courage and vision to lead an organization to do what’s best for society, which I sincerely believe will lead to greater profitability.  In 2014, CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes as it didn’t align with their vision “We strive to improve the quality of human life,” which took courage as it was forecasted that this decision would cost them about $2 billion in revenue.  Although the stock price dropped 1% on the day of the announcement, 18 months later, their stock price doubled, a record high.

Transparency, authenticity, and care for people are exponentially important during times of crisis.  Hence regardless of the times, I believe a leader must advance the vision by first protecting people in order to generate meaningful, lasting profits.