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Navigating A “Black Swan” Event – On or Off Wall Street

The Coronavirus reminds us that we can, and must, rise to the occasion when the unexpected strikes.

I’ve spent a good deal of time in my career, first on Wall Street and then in financial media, advising CEOs in a variety of fields:  investing, healthcare, technology, you name it.  And the reaction of the world markets to the Coronavirus pandemic – and yes, we are using that word now – shows that a “black swan” event, something that happens out of the blue and throws everything into question, still has the power to knock us off our pins.  But here’s the thing – it doesn’t.  We can and will prevail.

Maybe it’s the advisor in me, or the fact that I now run a youth wellness nonprofit serving 38 million young people, or the fact that I’m a mom of four, or perhaps all of the above.  But my reaction thus far has been to retreat to the management basics:  steady hand and safety first.  Here’s what I’ve been reminding my team.

Don’t be a hero in this

Obviously, few people have experience leading employees through something like Coronavirus.  So don’t act alone, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice.  You’re doing no one a favor by ignoring this emergency and just “working through it.”  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has great specific guidance for businesses and employees here.

Kindness goes a long way 

Assist those around you in any way you can during this challenging time, and think about how you can pick up the slack for others.  Remember that there are lots of folks who don’t ask for help but need it regardless.

Practice social distancing

Washing hands, not physically touching others,  and keeping hands away from the face are the basics, of course.  The healthcare professionals know best, and they are the trusted sources at this point, not politicians. Reporting shared by trusted and verified news sources is a good resource in a time like this, and the advice that healthcare professionals are providing on their social media channels is invaluable, current, and specific to the moment.

Prepare, prepare, prepare  

No one knows how serious this will get, but you need to be thinking about re-scheduling, cancelling, and re-organizing events.  Do meetings need to be in person or can they be conducted over Skype or Zoom?  Can they be a simple conference call?  Work with your staff on this, and get ready for what’s to come in the weeks ahead.  We all hope that mass-scale quarantining won’t be necessary, and that with the warm weather the spread of the virus may abate.  But let’s be ready.

Government can’t do it all 

This health emergency is a perfect example of a time during which corporate America can and should step up.  Just one example:  with schools and whole school districts closing, what’s happening with the students who depend on the School Breakfast and Lunch programs for their daily nutrition?  How might your company work together with local suppliers to step in to provide meals?  Put together backpacks for home delivery  Pick up the slack?  A call to your local superintendent, school-board member, or selectman offering assistance might go a long way in your town or community.  The School Nutrition Association has proposed to the USDA a variety of measures to increase options for districts equipped to safely offer children meals during emergency school closures, including Grab and Go meals.  More information on that here – the capacity is stretched.

Remember the small businesses in your community

According to the U.S Department of Commerce, small businesses are responsible for 52% of all U.S. sales, and employ 55 million people, more than half of the entire private workforce, many of them part-time.  And small businesses are the ones often hit hardest in times like this.  Remember to patronize and support them.

Acknowledge health care workers

Our healthcare system is about to face one of the greatest challenges it has ever had to deal with.  Workers are already overtaxed, overworked, and under pressure.  Acknowledge this, thank them, and reward them for what they’re doing.  And support them in any way you can.  As community testing for the virus expands, think about providing additional facilities, space, volunteers, just as you would in a natural disaster.

Be a voice of reason

I say this particularly to my colleagues in media.  Information and facts are what we need, delivered with grace, calm, and sober analysis.  Bring in the true experts, and don’t rely on “opinion journalism” at a time like this.  Share with us moments that demonstrate why humanity at its best is what binds us – show us giving, evidence of behavior that warms the soul when things are scary.  Our media doesn’t do enough of this.

Kids, above all, need clarity and honesty 

Even when things are scary, the very act of being truthful with children – even if that truth is sobering and worrying – is itself reassuring.  And obviously use judgment as to when to send them to school and when to keep them home, and when to keep them out of public spaces period.  This will not last forever, and it won’t be the end of the world.  Be clear in your warnings and instructions to them, and stay calm.  Obsessively watching news updates can be counterproductive, and overexposure to news coverage can do more psychic damage than good.  Get out a deck of cards, a board game, or play some video games with them, as on a snow day.

Above all, take care of your health

Now more than ever, being fit and healthy is important.  The robust immunity that tends to come along with good health and fitness is crucial now.  Work out, or just walk, but keep moving.  Sleep.  Meditate.  Keep in touch with friends for your mental well-being.

To my friends in the business community, from CEO on down, I would remind you that the Business Roundtable this past fall, following up on BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s urging for the past several years, stressed that purpose is the most important thing an organization can have going forward.  Yes, profit and shareholder value are vital, but without a purpose built around social impact and making the world a better place, profit for its own sake is empty.

So view this crisis as an opportunity to have a purpose – supporting your community, your industry, and your country in time of serious crisis.  Run to it, not away from it.  Roll up your sleeves and dive in.  Problem-solve.  Offer your assets, and your time, whether it’s a customer who’s struggling, a worker who is reeling, or a local municipality strapped for resources that you have.  Don’t wait for them to ask – lean in, be there, step up.  Now is the time to act as one, to work together, to listen to one another and educate one another.  That’s what we do best as Americans – unite!  And it’s one of the key ways we’ll overcome this difficult time.

Courage!

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