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Leading During Covid-19: Four Tips from Scheller Executive MBA Alumni

Alumni of the Scheller College of Business Executive MBA (EMBA) program share their thoughts, experiences, and advice on leading during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scheller Executive MBA alumni share their advice on how to lead during Covid-19.

Scheller Executive MBA alumni share their advice on how to lead during Covid-19.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, everyday life has changed entirely. As companies have had to adapt to new working environments, strategic challenges, staff changes, and more, grounded leadership has become an extremely important asset to teams across the globe. It becomes even more vital as organizations begin to make decisions about their transitions back to in-person work.

We reached out to alumni of the Scheller College of Business Executive MBA (EMBA) program to learn from their experiences about leading during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Remember, what you do now defines who you are as a leader.
There is a new normal across the globe, which has bred confusion and uncertainty. Leading from a position of compassion and empathy is critical as teams continue to adapt to changing circumstances. 

“First and most importantly, you must lead from a centered position of compassion,” said Dr. Kofi Smith (EMBA ’09), President and CEO of the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Cooperation. “This crisis is when our character and our leadership ideology will be exposed. We need to make sure that in all decisions, the people we lead are our first and most important concern. The people placed under our leadership should be able to clearly see that as leaders, we have a continuous focus on their physical health and financial health.”

“I try to inspire people by treating them how I would want to be treated,” said Brooke Carter (EMBA ’16), who was recently promoted to the President of Enterprise Sales at UPS. “I always try and tell people ‘Hey, make sure you are taking time for yourself. Make sure you are logging off at a decent time. Make sure you are spending time with your family.’ It’s important that they know that you care.”

2. Prioritize open, honest, and consistent communication.
For Adam Scharf (EMBA, ’12), Business Process Group Manager at The Clorox Company, his team was already comfortable with working remotely with people around the world. The new piece that Covid-19 brought was that all their partners were now working remotely.

Everything from poor quality internet connections, juggling personal commitments with work, and a multitude of other topics made the early collaboration tough, but he tackled these issues by using telephone for audio for those with slower connections, sending out an agenda and a desired outcome for meetings, overemphasizing strong facilitation, and closing with notes. For him, these weren’t new ideas, but the importance of doing them with excellence and consistency became critical.

On top of that, being open and honest with your team during meetings creates true connections and relationships built on trust.

“Be completely vulnerable during this time and let your teams know that you do not know all of the answers as this pandemic continues to change daily, but they can rest assured that you will be working day and night to position them for survival and success,” said Smith. “Constantly communicate what you are working on and do not go radio silent.”

“I make sure that anything I know, I am sharing it with my team,” Carter said. “If I get a different nugget on what the competitors are doing or get something from our marketing department or our operations department, I’m going to share that with my team. It goes along the lines of just being authentic and consistent, and I’ve dared to be very vulnerable with my team.”

3. Follow expert guidelines.
Protecting the well-being, health, and safety of employees is one of a leader’s greatest charges. Social distancing, increased hygiene practices, and following expert guidelines are just some of the ways leaders can protect their employees.

“We have synthesized the guidelines from the White House, the Governor’s Executive Orders, and the CDC to ensure we are applying everything within the work environment to keep our team members safe,” said Smith.  

For those teams that have been able to move to remote work, the question will soon be what practices will be in place when it is safe to return to the office. Plans could include returning in a tiered approach or increasing the number of team members that can continue to work from home on a more permanent basis.

“Safety and people are central to all the decisions we make,” Scharf said. “For the team I lead, we are fortunate to be able to do all our work remotely.  Our commitment is to make sure that it is safe before considering returning to the office in a tiered approach.”

4. Get creative in your approach to building connection.
One way to face the issues around remote work and virtual connection is to take a creative approach. For Carter, this meant closing her laptop and getting out a pen and piece of paper.

“For recognition and appreciation efforts, whether it’s for the team or the customer, I like to send handwritten notes to make people feel special,” Carter said. “I would typically thank someone in person, or I would send them an email, but since we are doing so much on our computers now, I’m trying to think of different ways to make people feel special.”

At The Clorox Company, extending their culture of engagement and ownership in a virtual way has made all the difference.

“Rather than in-person happy hours, we switched to virtual ones. Our employee resource groups host things like game nights and yoga, exercise, and meditation sessions. Town halls went fully virtual and we even hosted a two-day department summit over video with breakouts, discussions, and activities with great success. It’s all about connection and relationships and I’m proud to say we’ve continued prioritizing it,” Scharf said. 

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