HR & Leadership

Carol Meyers on How to Lead During a Crisis

April 21, 2020

COVID-19 has thrown us all for a loop—in our personal lives and in our professional lives. As companies scramble to adjust to a dispersed workforce, internal communication and team management have rocketed to the top of the priority list.

Even companies that know how to manage remote teams are struggling to help employees maintain productivity while dealing with constant distractions and anxiety.

If you’re a leader, how can you help your team navigate these unusual times with grace and good humor?

Working through a crisis isn’t new territory for Carol Meyers, an inspiring leader and self-proclaimed growth junkie who has helped four companies—Shiva, Unica, LogMeIn and Rapid7—through successful IPOs. One of those happened during the Great Recession.

I reached out to Carol to get her thoughts on what people need most during times like these. Here’s what she had to say:

Give people someone to count on

“It’s really about leadership, and making sure your team feels that they have people at the helm who are tuned in,” Carol said. “They want you to be listening and empathetic as well as transparent and direct about the situation and your plans. They need to have a sense of confidence that their leaders can actually lead them through the crisis.”

“As leaders, we need to dig deep in spite of our own stress and fears. We need to lead.”

Carol also recommended going back to your vision. “You can never over-communicate your vision,” she said. Even if you feel like you just talked about it yesterday, go ahead and talk about it again. People need to know that the vision hasn’t changed and that it’s still relevant. They need to know that your company culture is still as rich as it was yesterday, and that you’re all working together toward a really important goal.”

Listen to the people on the front lines

In a crisis, leadership isn’t just about saying the right thing. It’s also about listening to the people around you.

Clear and consistent communication is critical to keep everyone apprised of what’s happening, but there’s also a lot to be gained from paying attention to the experiences of others. Your sales and customer success teams are getting a real-time pulse of the customer mindset and market.

For example, one of the companies Carol consults for just shifted their messaging in response to the pandemic. In their conversations with customers, the sales and customer success teams heard loud and clear that the biggest concern on customers’ minds was saving money. That wasn’t a message the company had ever used in their marketing, but because leadership was tuned in, they were able to make a very appropriate and effective adjustment to their positioning.

The people on the front lines have real-time, valuable information to share. Make sure you take advantage of their unique perspective and access with a nimble process to collect those insights—and put them to good use.

Remember to have fun

“To stay sane, it’s important to try to find fun, creative ways of interacting,” Carol said. This can be a challenge in unusual circumstances like the socially-distanced ones we’re in now, but she sees it as a good challenge.

“Try to recreate some of the camaraderie and fun of your physical environment,” she suggests. This might look like getting people engaged with virtual games, puzzles, or other challenges. It might involve random coffee chats on Slack, the popular virtual happy hours.

Related: The Ultimate Remote Work Resources Guide

“Getting your team together to play some games or solve some riddles or other challenges helps them think in a different way,” Carol explained. “Instead of trying to solve the problem of how to get people to respond to your marketing emails, they can try to solve a mystery puzzle together. These activities can unlock creativity, relieve stress and help you continue to build bonds.”

Don’t forget that employees are also dealing with kids at home. Consider enlisting unemployed student teachers to create story hours, coding games, or other fun activities to engage your team’s children.

Make time for personal conversations

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. It can be scary, but we’re all going through it together. In times of crisis, it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse of your team—both as a team, and as individuals. “Reach out to people—even more than usual,” Carol suggested, “Especially anybody who’s really going through a tough time.”

Related: Leaders Eat on Camera—Advice from 10 Years of Leading Remote Teams

Even when your normal routine has been upended, you can find creative ways to connect with team members. “As a manager, an effective way to do one-on-ones with your team members while we’re all quarantined is to use FaceTime or Zoom and go for tandem walks,” Carol said. “It’s a great way to break up the Zoom monotony and to make sure your employees aren’t just sitting at their desk all day while they’re at home. You walk. They walk. And you talk.”

Keep the future in your sights

Crises put us in a place where we don’t know what comes next. The particular crises we’re living through now is no different. No one knows what changes we’ll see as we emerge on the other side.

This is a different kind of challenge. Past recessions and other market disruptions have had to do with economic factors or big shifts in the market like the growth of SaaS or e-commerce. A pandemic creates a completely different set of issues and challenges.

Working through such trying conditions requires strong leadership, great communication skills and empathy for your team. “As leaders, we need to dig deep in spite of our own stress and fears. We need to lead,” said Carol. “Crises usually have a long tail after the initial shock, so we need to continue to listen, monitor, stay nimble and amp up our communications with our teams. Find ways to build your energy reserves, because this crisis is months away from being fully solved.”

And, as Carol pointed out, the strategies and lessons we learn now are not only valuable in this moment, they can also help us later on as we move into the future. What we do to get through today may very well help us shape our tomorrow.

Read more insight from Carol Meyers

Partner at OpenView

Casey leads the end-to-end strategy & programming for OpenView’s network of industry experts, advisors & corporate partners. Her role is focused on creating connections between founders & their teams and the partners, advisors, board members & events they need to reach their goals. Additionally, she manages the OpenView portfolio peer networks and hosts the #WeeklyWalk series.