For CEOs: Lead With Love Not Fear

These are trying times. People are scared and rightfully so. COVID-19 is only a small part of that fear. Beyond COVID-19, many companies do not have the balance sheets to weather the economic storm that is on the horizon, which is forcing people out of work when they were just barely hanging on. Rising unemployment and slowing demand will cause businesses to make further cuts. Many of those same employees, already overextended in debt, do not have safety nets. All over the world, there is a crisis of leadership, political and otherwise. Their fear is warranted.

For anyone who has read my book, you’ll know what the world is going through now is something I predicted. What happens next is either worldwide depression or massive monetary easing and stimulus. Both of these decisions – whether to print money or not – are out of our control. They also lead to wildly different outcomes of where to invest or to not invest. Those are the facts. As leaders, we can only prepare and do our best in light of those decisions.

Leadership at any time is hard. People do not hear what you say in exactly the way you mean it. They hear what you say through their own filter and emotions and, sometimes, mistake the message entirely. In times like this, that difficulty is compounded because with fear and panic spreading around the world at lightning speed, fear becomes the filter. Almost every person in your organization, whether that organization is a company, public institution or country, is experiencing that same fear — telling themselves their own stories about what might happen next and wondering how they are going to make ends meet if the worst should happen. That fear itself impairs quality decision making and often makes the situation far worse because people become paralyzed or make irrational decisions. It then feeds back on itself because each person thinks they are making quality decisions while believing everyone else is not.

Genuinely overcommunicate

I saw it with my team at BuildDirect in 2000 during the dot-com crisis and again in 2008 during the housing and credit crisis. In both cases, we were not as well prepared as we should have been either because of our technology or balance sheet. It wasn’t that hard decisions didn’t have to be made. Ultimately, it was the communication of those decisions in a way that gave hope to people that was key to leading the team through challenging times because it allowed them to remain at their best.

I needed to step back in a calm way and understand what the world would look like in the future, to be able to get out of the day-to-day insanity of a crisis. I also realized that I had to overcommunicate in a genuine, hopeful and loving way. I realized that leadership matters a lot in times like this. It was not that I had all the answers – it was about communicating, often, in a way that gave people hope. Doing that in an honest, calm way ensured they could operate at their best. The ideas that came from allowing them to release their tension, in many cases, created the best opportunities.

“Times like this are made for high integrity, compassionate leaders who truly care about the world in which we all live.” Jeff Booth, Visionary Tech Leader & Author

Finding opportunities

Even though times like these are tough, they also create some of the most amazing opportunities. Under the cover of a crisis, it is easier to do the things needed to ensure that a company can thrive in the future and do it fast. In business, sometimes that means extending cash by doing a down round quickly; sometimes it means delaying expenses or making cuts and preserving the core or changing the “core” altogether.  Remember, it’s not that you might not have to make hard decisions along the way — it is the way in which you make and communicate those decisions.

Times like this also create unbelievable buying opportunities. If we can imagine what it looks like for us and our teams with fear in the market, we can also imagine what it looks like for others. Because of that fear, companies tend to make bad decisions either because they project the existing business in its worst case into the future instead of changing it and make irrational decisions or because of balance sheet impairments and that becomes opportunities for others to pick up businesses at fire-sale prices.

Practice compassionate leadership

Times like this are made for high integrity, compassionate leaders who truly care about the world in which we all live. In a world that seems to be breaking down – quality leadership matters more than ever. It’s what people crave and what they will remember when this is over.

Take YPO member Glenn Wong, CEO of Catalyst Solutions. His leadership has created untold value in these times by bringing together top speakers from all over the world so that our YPO members in Canada can all learn from each other. He’s probably saved countless businesses in this effort. He didn’t have to do this, but it’s the impact he chose to make during this time.

This same thread can be applied to any business if you chose to connect the dots and see the pain that others are experiencing right now. Find a way to help people out of it. That is where the real value lies because, remember that in the end, it is the impact you have on others that will matter most in your life.

For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.

Jeff Booth is a visionary leader who has lived at the forefront of technology change for 20 years. For nearly two decades he led BuildDirect, a technology company that aimed to simplify the building industry, through the dot-com meltdown, the 2008 financial crisis, and many waves of technological disruption. In January 2020, Booth released his first book titled The Price of Tomorrow – Why Deflation is Key to an Abundant Future. In it, he offers his provocative thesis about the current state of our economies and what must happen to enable a brighter future. Booth has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Inc.com, The Globe and Mail, BNN, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, TIME, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2015, he was named BC Technology Industry Association’s (BCTIA) Person of the Year, and in 2016 Goldman Sachs named him among its 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs. He is a Founding Partner of OtioLabs, Co-Founder of addyinvest.com and NocNoc, and serves on the boards of Terramera, Cubic Farms, LlamaZOO, Synthiam and the Richmond Hospital Foundation as well as numerous advisory boards. Booth has been a YPO member since 2004 and contributes time as a Founding Fellow on the Creative Destruction Lab. In his downtime, he can be found at the lake playing his guitar around a campfire with his family and friends, enjoying watersports or skiing at local Vancouver mountains. He is also dedicated to learning and reads about 50 books a year.