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3 Ways the COVID-19 Crisis Can Help You Hone Your Leadership Skills

You don’t have to be a high-profile CEO to become an invaluable leader for your team during the COVID-19 pandemic.

certain piece of advice from children’s TV icon Fred Rogers often circulates during times of trouble: “Always look for the helpers.” It’s a useful thought to pass along to kids when they’re processing complicated feelings—and it can be a valuable reminder for us grown-ups. But there comes a time when the sentiment doesn’t go quite far enough.

As we navigate the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to become not just a helper but a leader.

When a crisis occurs, leaders emerge. They build resilience and help point their companies and co-workers safely to the other side. That’s true whether we’re talking about the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a midlevel manager, or the owner of a mom-and-pop store.

According to Sheldon Yellen, CEO of the property restoration and disaster recovery company BELFOR, “It is every leader’s job to become a CEO, which now stands for Cheerleader, Enthusiast, and Optimist-in-Chief. We all must serve as the CEOs of our worlds and businesses moving forward.”

Now’s the time to step up and prove that you’ve got what it takes to be the uplifting, resourceful, effective leader your business needs. Here are four ways you can grow your leadership skills during the COVID-19 pandemic to prime your company—and your personal brand—for success in the future.

1. Don’t hesitate to take action.

When you don’t know what’s going on, your first instinct might be to sit tight and wait until things shake out. It’s hard to determine a confident path forward when you can’t get a grasp on the shape of the problem, after all. But during times when it’s just not possible to know how events will ultimately play out, it’s riskier to wait around for clarity than to make decisions now based on what you do know.

Acting quickly, confidently, and enthusiastically gives the people who rely on you a clear next step and keeps you in control of your fate. In practice, this looks like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver canceling the 2020 season before any other sporting league had done the same. It also looks like the myriad small business owners who took precautionary measures like closing doors and going digital before their cities or states asked them to do so. On an individual level, you can save valuable time and showcase your agility by reorganizing your priorities based on your company’s current needs before you’re asked to do so.

2. Operate with transparency and authenticity.

When you take decisive action, do so transparently. We’re all craving honest communication at the moment, and leaders at organizations of any size can provide just that. Exuding your authentic personal brand and sharing your vulnerability will allow you to connect more deeply with people who are thirsty for facts and support. Employees need accurate information regarding next steps and safety measures your company is putting in place to protect them. And if they’ll be interacting with customers in any way, they need to have the most up-to-date game plan you can offer.

Speaking of which, customers also deserve transparent and authentic communications. Use any of your touchpoints—from client calls to advertisements to newsletters to Facebook posts—to explain clearly the changes you’re making to your daily operations. If you can prove that you’re acting with health and safety as your priority, you’ll build additional trust. No matter who you’re communicating with, remember that tone is critical: Stay optimistic and hopeful, but don’t veer too far into jovial when discussing weighty topics.

3. Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities.

Did your business have a rock-solid plan in place that detailed your exact response to a global pandemic a year ago? I’m going to guess you probably didn’t. That means you might make a mistake (or two, or several). This is where the “Cheerleader, Enthusiast, and Optimist-in-Chief” title comes into play: Instead of obsessing over mistakes, focus on what you can learn from them.

Did you try out a new marketing message that didn’t drive as many leads as you hoped? Make a note of what didn’t work while pivoting accordingly, using this knowledge to participate in developing your company’s long-range strategies. Even small-scale gaffes have wide-scale implications. Made a mistake fulfilling a customer’s carryout dining order? Apologize, offer a discount, and move on to the next order. No matter your industry or specific situation, it’s essential to reframe mistakes as opportunities for continual growth and improvement.

Stepping up to provide leadership within your business is an important task in any crisis—not just the one we’re experiencing at the moment. Use these three tips to prove yourself as a hopeful, dedicated leader within your company today, in addition to being a resilient expert who can lead the organization through the potential crises of tomorrow. By taking this opportunity to hone your leadership skills, you’ll ensure that people look to you the next time they need a helper.

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