Leading in the time of COVID-19

Look to companies you respect. Act on your values.

When this pandemic is over, leaders of organizations will be judged on their handling of this unprecedented situation. Thanks to the transparency of social media, there will be clear winners and clear losers. Did they choose profit over people? Did they fail to take swift and decisive action? Did they stand as a community, remain on the sidelines or take advantage of those most in need?


For Patagonia, operating in accordance with its values meant not only choosing to shut down both its physical and online presence but to continue to pay its workers in North America. This brand through its leadership has consistently demonstrated its core values when called upon to make choices between people, planet and profits.


  • In 2002, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews, founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, created 1% for the Planet where they committed to give 1% of their sales back to the environment—whether or not they were profitable.

  • On Black Friday in 2011, Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” In the ad, they explained the cost to the environment of making its top-selling fleece jacket and urged readers to think twice about buying it or any other piece of clothing.

  • In 2018, the company elected to pass along $10 million in savings from tax cuts to non-profit environmental groups.

Doing the right thing and acting on values appears to be ingrained in the company’s DNA - how it prioritizes stakeholders and how it informs its leaders’ conscious working agreements for how decisions are made.


Other companies are following suit.

  • An Atlanta-based marketing firm gave away its toilet paper stocks for free in a drive-thru initiative amidst the COVID-19 panic-buying of supplies. Trevelino/Keller told their employees to work from home and with no one to use the bathroom in the office, Keller took the opportunity to put the 1,000 surplus rolls of toilet paper to good use.

  • With schools closed due to coronavirus, lots of parents are looking for ways to keep the kids engaged in learning. Scholastic is working to make sure children do not miss out on learning. The company is offering free online learning courses. The website currently has five days worth of content, but Scholastic plans to add an additional 15 days worth of activities, according to a news release.

But most leaders today do not work for organizations where “doing the right thing” or “permission to do so” is clear cut. Many leaders struggle to navigate people, planet and profit decisions - especially when the stakes are high and the unknowns are great.


These are defining times for leadership.


What does this situation call on you to become?


Courageous leadership

Leading Through Covid-19: Making Smart Decisions Amid Uncertainty by Margie Warrell (Forbes). Navigating the uncertainty of the path ahead in ways that minimize the ongoing fall out will require all who occupy leadership roles to keep fear in check and rethink risk beyond its usual parameters.


Communicate with transparency

Don’t Hide Bad News in Times of Crisis by Amy C. Edmondson (HBR). Transparency is “job one” for leaders in a crisis. Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re doing to learn more. You can’t manage a secret, as the old saying goes.


Connect with others

Coronavirus: How to Be the Leader Your People Need Right Now. By Peter Slagt, David Michels and Melissa Burke (Bain & Company) Engage people in the right way, at the right time, with the right information.


Care for yourself so you can truly care for others

Leadership Under COVID-19 Starts With Leading Yourself by Michael Melcher (Next Step Partners). With a looming threat like COVID-19, it’s natural for leaders to focus on what they should do about that threat. But real leadership starts with something closer to home: you.


Community giving

The last few days have been a testament to the power of community in assisting others to adjust to new norms. I have seen numerous articles with tips on how to help teams work remotely, how to bridge technology gaps, how to shift your recruiting and hiring processes to 100% remote. This is a time that calls on each of us to ask: What is your opportunity to demonstrate leadership? What unique knowledge or skill could I use to help others?


Need inspiration?

  • Adam Gellert, Adam Bercovici and Marianne Bulger created a G sheet where candidates can put their names down if they're currently looking for work - whether it's part-time, contract or full-time positions.

  • TechTo is going online and free on March 23rd. TechTO Together is a free online event where you can learn from leaders who have worked through challenging environments. Tech leaders like Andrew D'Souza, Candice Faktor, Chris Rasmussen, Valerie Fox, Jamie McDonald, Mike Katchen, and many more will share their insights and guidance about how to navigate tough times.


How do you want to be judged as a leader? What are you prepared to do about it?


About Me.

My work connects me with some pretty amazing humans. As clients, they have an insatiable curiosity about themselves and the impact they make. They harness the courage to move outside their comfort zone to challenge their learning edge and they make an unwavering commitment to their own personal transformation.


My monthly newsletter Reach Your Peak was born out of my mission to help leaders thrive and not just survive. Want to learn how you can be a better leader? You can. Start by subscribing to Reach Your Peak.

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