Across the Private Sector: Strategic Leadership and the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered our work and home life patterns, many of my clients, colleagues and friends have compared this time to having two jobs at once. The term drinking from a firehose, describing the overwhelming flow of urgent matters, has come up more than once in conversation.

While the unprecedented situation has brought heightened pressure and stress, it also provides fertile ground for the disruption of outdated practices and patterns that no longer serve us. Here are some of examples of crisis leadership issues and decisions across a range of companies.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered our work and home life patterns, many of my clients, colleagues and friends have compared this time to having two jobs at once. In other words, they have their “normal” job – the one they were hired to do – and a new call to lead their teams and/or an entire organization through the coronavirus crisis. Some of them, of course, have a third job as project manager of or substitute teacher for their children’s school schedules or are even serving on the front lines in the medical community or otherwise.

The term drinking from a firehose, describing the overwhelming flow of urgent matters, has come up more than once in conversation.

Covid leadership

While our private sector leaders don’t know what the future will hold – as none of us do – they are nonetheless making strategic decisions to address present needs and prepare for possible future scenarios. Often they need to give answers quickly and with a higher risk tolerance than would have been acceptable in the past, while knowing there could be very real consequences for getting it wrong. At the same time, getting it “right” (either on the spot or by slowing down to observe, process and give thoughtful advice) can make positive contributions to the health, safety, wellbeing, professional development and economic viability of employees within their organizations and create far-reaching ripple effects.

While the unprecedented situation has brought heightened pressure and stress, it also provides fertile ground for the disruption of outdated practices and patterns that no longer serve us. Here are a range of crisis leadership examples emerging in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:

Team and Organizational Leadership

  1. Creating COVID-19 task forces to streamline and provide consistency in strategy and responses
  2. Helping board members and other senior leaders become more comfortable with virtual platforms for meetings and presentations
  3. Encouraging input across all levels of the organization, especially from those who are closer to the pulse of customer needs
  4. Holding happy hours and other team meetings over videoconference, especially to support those employees who are naturally extroverted and finding it draining to be isolated for an extended period
  5. Hosting enterprise-wide and/or departmental town halls to maintain clear and ongoing communications
  6. Attending to employees’ mental health and personal concerns, such as childcare and family situations (including the possibility that family members are suffering from the virus), while respecting their need for privacy

Business Leadership and Relationship Management

  1. Renegotiating (and seeking out new) contracts and partnerships, such as leases and supply chain agreements
  2. Reinventing how they do business, especially if they are in one of the harder-hit industries
  3. Actively working with regulators to create flexibility to respond to new situations while honoring policy goals
  4. Closely monitoring corporate liquidity while trying to keep their workforce in place
  5. Interpreting ambiguous new laws and executive orders, such as the CARES Act
  6. Continuously updating modeling and/or 100-day plans; resetting or suspending judgment on appropriate goals through the rest of the calendar year
  7. Redeploying underutilized staff to support overtasked areas of the business
  8. Taking business continuity and other lessons from prior crises to apply or adapt to COVID-19 leadership and increase infrastructure resiliency
  9. Adapting leadership responses across the varying needs of local jurisdictions and international businesses and/or business lines
  10. Exploring and creating best practices to allow employees to return to their offices without compromising their safety and providing support for those who can and prefer to continue to work from home
  11. Managing RIFs (reductions in force), hiring freezes and/or prioritization of new hires with limited resources
  12. Arranging donations of extra materials to organizations and individuals

Individual Time/Self Management

  1. Creating personal boundaries and work-home distinctions, even as they may working at off hours and in their living spaces
  2. Branching out into new areas of expertise, while managing the “trial by fire” nature of their expanded responsibilities
  3. Finding ways to stay “fresh” as the crunch marches on

Feel free to add additional examples of crisis leadership you have witnessed in the comments section below. For more COVID-19 career and leadership resources, please click here or visit

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach and writer based in Connecticut. To learn more about her, you can visit her About page or LinkedIn profile.



Lessons from Hurricane Sandy: Business Continuity

As a business lawyer, I track not only the legal aspects of business but also how people live, breathe and think about their businesses. After Hurricane Sandy, business continuity is one issue that is, or should be, on the minds of all business owners.

[Note: This post was written while I was a practicing attorney running a diverse solo law practice, and it is one of a small number of “legacy posts” that I have retained on the site. When published, this was one of my most popular posts. Since April 2015, I have been working as an executive coach and writer, and I am not currently available for legal engagements.]

I spoke with a restaurant owner in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut in the days before the hurricane and asked him what where his plans for the coming storm. His answer: “Pray that it misses me, because I will lose thousands of dollars of frozen food.” He didn’t even begin to mention the potential loss of revenue if his doors were shuttered for a week or more, either unable to imagine it or unwilling to foresee the risk.

Unfortunately, all too often business continuity planning – preparing to keep a business operating and mitigate losses during a hurricane or other disaster – is seen (if considered at all) simply as an expense rather than an opportunity. If you own a business, here are some thoughts about how to ramp up your business continuity efforts.

1. Evaluate the Risks. The first question is always what risks are greatest to your individual industry and business. In the restaurant example, maintaining current inventory and access to alternate suppliers (if a main supplier is unavailable) are two major and obvious factors, but there is much more to consider. Let’s start with the workforce. How will the restaurant’s manager communicate with employees in the case of a disaster or other emergency? Have any been cross-trained in the event that staff is limited and has there been a dry run of the management pyramid as the staff fulfills their new roles? How will mundane tasks be met, such as washing dishes and taking out the trash? Is alternate staff available? Then there’s technology. How much of the business relies on technology and what will happen if the power fails? Have you secured an alternate means of processing credit cards, for example, or planned a manual backup? There’s also the site to consider. If the site of the restaurant becomes unavailable or suffers a security risk for any reason, does the business need to close or can meals be delivered to customers in another manner (e.g., takeout)? What other risks may face your business?

2. Invest in a Backup Power Source. While we can all debate whether major storms and other disasters are becoming more common, after Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and other worldwide events, it is clear that businesses need access to power when the lights go out. Decide how much backup power generation is sufficient in different scenarios that could face your business and investigate how you can secure access to the resources needed to run it, such as natural gas or gasoline. If you cannot afford a generator, can you share one with another local business? If you choose to go that route, make sure to sign a contract outlining the rights and responsibilities of each business, including how much power the generator owner and second business can pull at any given time and how this will be monitored.

3. Review Insurance. Does the business have sufficient insurance in the specific areas that cause risk? Flood insurance is a prime example. If your business could experience flooding and is not insured against that risk, it is time to review and update your policy.

4. Review Contracts. If your business contracts require delivery of goods or services at a specific date and time, include “force majeure” clauses in your form contract and any other significant agreements. These clauses vary in their language, depending on the subject matter of the contract, but generally state that if a force outside of your control (i.e., a “higher force” or “force majeure”) causes a delay in or impossibility of performance, you are excused from the contract for the duration of the event.

5. Plan How to Communicate with Employees. Mentioned in the risk-analysis above, businesses need a tested means of communicating with employees in the event of a disaster. Which employees have access to landlines, cell phones and email, and does everyone use them on a regular basis? Is there a backup emergency phone number for each individual? Who maintains the employee list, and what is the plan if that person is incapacitated? Can you outsource this function and does it make sense to do so?

6. Have Built-In Redundancy. If you are reliant on data, plan to backup that data and your central server as needed. Keep copies of important records offsite or online. If you are heavily reliant on other service providers to run your business, such as an Internet provider, find out if their own backup plans are sufficient to allow customers to continue to do business with you if the service provider’s systems fail.

7. Test. A business continuity plan has little value on paper. Make sure it actually works. Have Plans A, B and C in place about how your business can be run, and test each one quarterly or annually.

8. Disseminate. Similarly, a plan has no value if the key players do not know about it. Make sure your significant employees are clued into the business continuity plan, know their roles and can implement it if needed.

None of the information posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship. This is a public forum. Please do not post confidential or fact-specific information regarding your legal questions on this site.

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