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situation has brought heightened pressure and stress, it also provides fertile ground for the disruption of outdated practices and patterns that no longer serve us.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situation has brought heightened pressure and stress, it also provides fertile ground for the disruption of outdated practices and patterns that no longer serve us.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.



Interview with Francisco Lasta: Modern Career Warrior Series

FRANCISCO LASTA is my Modern Career Warrior for April 2020.

As an occupational therapist, Francisco’s career spans the domains of medicine, design and technology, with a healthy dose of emotional intelligence. Among other projects, he consults on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and telehealth, and his ideas and innovations are directly relevant for the global health crisis we are currently facing.


FRANCISCO LASTA is our Modern Career Warrior for April 2020. This article is part of a series of mid-career retrospective interviews featuring inspiring and innovative professionals at

Copyright Francisco Lasta

Francisco is an occupational therapist whose career spans the domains of medicine, design and technology, with a healthy dose of emotional intelligence. Among other projects, he consults on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and telehealth, and his ideas and innovations are directly relevant for the global health crisis we are currently facing.

AMS: Francisco, my first and lasting impression of you is that you are full of light and always smiling. I assume this is what keeps you centered to do such serious, important work.

FL: Thanks. I always try to keep a positive outlook on everything.

Also, beyond a certain skill level and obvious confidentiality obligations, competency as a therapist lies in how well you are able to make people feel comfortable working with you. As I often tell my patients, “I can help you improve your life and do more of the things you want to do, as long as you trust me.”

AMS: Gaining people’s trust must be harder right now, as the global COVID-19 pandemic is heightening people’s insecurities.

FL: It definitely is. In the midst of coronavirus, I’m actually starting to rely less on smiling to communicate and more on other gestures and cues – as well as sharper reading of body language – since most of us are wearing face masks now with our patients.

AMS: What else has changed for you since COVID-19 hit?

FL: I have been keeping track of any updates regarding the virus ever since the outbreak began in Wuhan, but my initial thoughts were that the U.S. health system would do a much better job. It was when I read the article in Medium by Tomas Pueyo that I really became worried.

Even if we have the full support of our organization, this is still a scary time for healthcare workers. Part of what we do invariably involves being up close and personal with our patients. All the patients I see belong to the most vulnerable group in terms of risk of infection. They are older with multiple medical conditions, and some of them live alone. 

AMS: We are all in your debt. You and your colleagues.

FL: Thank you.

AMS: Although the coronavirus is front and center in everyone’s minds at the moment, I also wanted to talk about your career in the larger context.

FL: Of course. And a lot of what I am doing in the technology space is actually very relevant in light of the pandemic, although I was working on most of it beforehand.

AMS: Let’s start with how you became interested in your field. Can you give us an overview of the goals of occupational therapy (OT)? I often think of OT as relating to one’s occupation, although I believe you have told me more than once that’s too limiting of a view.

FL: Actually, it does relate to one’s occupation, but occupation doesn’t have to mean a job. The term “occupation” in OT means what occupies you in your life, how you spend your time. Our main focus is to address whatever is limiting someone from being independent in life.

AMS: That makes sense. Can you also tell us about where you work?

FL: I’m at Premier Point Home Health, and my role has a number of different components, such as home health therapy, telehealth program consultations and optimizing the agency’s app capabilities. At the same time, I’m consulting for NeuroPath to develop an AI-based product.

AMS: And the letters after your name in your LinkedIn profile: OTRL CAPS?

FL:  One is my OT registration/license (OTRL). And CAPS, stands for Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. If you think your readers would be interested, you can share more about Aging-in-Place initiatives on the HUD User site at the links I sent you [available here and here].

AMS: And you said that you are focused on working with older adults.

FL: Yes. I have seen a lot of orthopedic patients, people who have had knee and hip replacements. Many patients are in their 60s through 90s and in general decline, some with dementia or history of stroke, and their disability is exacerbated because of age or other issues. When they leave surgery or a skilled nursing facility, we want to make sure they are safe at home with their new disability. As OTs, our role is to identify the key problems and what are causing them, then create a program with solutions, whether it’s improving a particular skill or modifying their environment or the way they do their day-to-day activities.

AMS: What is it like to work with a patient who has dementia? That must be very hard.

FL: It’s particularly challenging with advanced dementia. We work with caregivers in those situations, spending a lot of time training them on how to avoid things like skin breakdown, falls and joint stiffness, as well as general decline. It often becomes overwhelming for caregivers as the condition progresses, because people can lose their ability to exercise multiple bodily functions, beyond what we traditionally associate with diminished mental capacity.

AMS: These issues are more prevalent with patients whose dementia is advanced, I assume.

FL: Right, these patients are often sitting, sometimes even lying down, for extremely long periods of time and don’t necessarily notice the toll it is taking on their bodies.

AMS: That’s something many of us don’t notice often enough, in fact.

FL: It’s true, and even more acute for that population.

AMS: And for the programs you design? What criteria do you use?

FL: During the assessment, we review medical charts, X-rays and lab results and talk to doctors and other healthcare providers who are taking care of the patient. Of course, we also examine the patient and make a cognitive assessment. For one thing, we look at whether they are recovering from a specific weakness or are in a lot of pain.

Just as important, we ask the patient what their priorities are. Usually we work with patients up to six weeks, sometimes more, so we develop a program we can complete in that time that helps them meet the OT needs they have prioritized. I am also piloting a program at Premier Point where I see a patient once a week indefinitely, which is much less costly [in the long run] than sending them back to the hospital with a problem.

AMS: How did you choose to work with the older population?

FL: I grew up with my grandmother back in the Philippines. She was deeply present and engaged in my early life and had a lasting influence on me.

That experience developed my ability to empathize with older adults on a deeper level and helped me communicate with them more meaningfully.

AMS: Which also, I assume, helped you develop that level of trust you mentioned is so important. I remember you mentioning a few years ago that you worked with some pretty well-known celebrities too. That probably was an exercise in trust as well.

FL: Yes, that was at Warren Barr. Some were celebrities, and others were certainly high-profile personalities. It was quite an experience to work with people whose names you would recognize from the media. As you get to know them better, you realize the they are just like any other patient with the same needs and weaknesses. As they aged, they had the same issues, like being able to pull up their pants without a struggle.

AMS: Was it intimidating to work with them?

FL: Not intimidating, but certainly high touch. In the normal course of OT practice, the first time you are assigned a client, you get a face sheet with information about them. But there were times that our director just showed us a photo or mentioned a name, and that was enough. The face sheet became more of a formality at that point.

AMS: Did this experience change how you work as an OT?

FL: I pride myself on giving the same care to everyone, but these were patients with high expectations. I think it was great, because it caused me to really think about best practices, create better habits and really push myself in my standard of care.

AMS: What other strengths would you say that you bring that help your work as an OT?

FL: Being able to adapt to new situations and think “outside the box” are certainly important, especially on the medical side of things. Also programming languages, which was not something I would have expected. I have surprised myself by sitting down for hours and learn SQL and Python, for example, after learning Swift for iPhone.

Francisco Lasta at his computer

AMS: Do you think apps are a game changer for OT?

Click HERE to continue reading this article.

For the FULL INTERVIEW, please:

click here (PDF version), or

visit (online version).


Modern Career Warriors @
Technology, the “gig economy” and globalization have irrevocably altered the modern career. Launched in January 2020, MODERN CAREER WARRIORS is a series on that explores the lives of professionals leading robust, resilient and multi-dimensional careers. 

DEPTH, COURAGE AND INTENSITY radiate from these Modern Career Warriors, who defy the odds and define their own paths.  While they may, like the rest of us, feel side-lined or even defeated at times, their inner drive keeps driving them to their own personal best and inspires others to do the same.

Feel free to post a question or “like” this post below, and click here to explore more articles in this series. Thanks!


Anne Marie Segal Cropped Website Final 2019 Barragan

Anne Marie Segal, founder of Segal Coaching LLC, is an executive coach, resume writer and author of two well-received books on interviewing and career development. She served as a corporate attorney for 15 years, including roles at White & Case LLP and a prominent hedge and private equity fund manager, before launching her coaching practice.

Based in Connecticut not far from New York City, Anne Marie partners with clients internationally on executive presence, impactful communications, graceful transitions and other aspects of professional and personal development. 

Article © 2020 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.

Article images: © 2020 Francisco Lasta unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Image of Anne Marie Segal: © 2019 Alejandro Barragan IV. All rights reserved.

No portion of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission from Anne Marie Segal (or the copyright holder of any image above), other than limited quotes that reference this article.

Yoga Mantra: Let Your Eyes Close (Yes, Really, Even Now)

What do this pandemic and my current mantra of closing your eyes teach us about true freedom, while so many of us are suffering on the front lines or sheltering in place? And how does that relate to what we do in our careers?

As my frequent readers know, I launched a new series this year that ties my yoga practice to my work as a career coach.

I had planned to go through the arc of a yoga class, with a new post each month that highlights one of the instructions yoga teachers often give their students. These simple phrases can serve as mantras for our daily lives, including our careers.

January – Set an Intention

February – Take a Comfortable Seat

March (this post) – Let Your Eyes Close

When I conceived of the Yoga Mantra series back in December 2019, none of us imagined we would be facing a global pandemic such as COVID-19. 

At the time, I felt as though I was taking a bold step by expanding my highly practical, hands-on coaching approach to add (what could be seen as) a less obvious angle. Would my clients and greater audience – who are mostly attorneys and other highly trained, process-oriented and results-driven professionals – find a discussion of yoga to be at odds with my commitment to focusing on steps they can take right now to get the greatest return on their efforts?

After all, yoga (like meditation, T’ai Chi, reiki and other healing practices and arts) is not intended to bring immediate results. It can, in fact, transform our lives from the very first time we try it. Yet its effects are more often the result of accumulated effort. Or rather, accumulated periods of time in which we release ourselves from effort, trying and striving. Periods of time in which we allow ourselves not to calculate the distance from Point A to Point B but instead to live the journey.

So much has changed in the world since December 2019 (three months ago) or even February 2020 (one month ago). In my case, as an all-too-common example, our local public schools have been closed and converted to distance learning since March 13, 2020. And while the school district has given us estimated dates of reopening (currently April 20, 2020), like other schools cross the U.S. and beyond, they may remain closed until the next academic school year. This is simply one change among countless to our daily lives.

On a global scale, our ability to predict what will happen next – indeed, to live a “predictable life” – has greatly diminished. At the same time, our need for adaptive skills in our careers and general lives has greatly increased:

– facing the unknown,

– rising to the occasion,

– making thoughtful decisions, and

– persevering (ideally thriving) with limited information and constantly changing circumstances.

These needs harken back to the reason I originally launched this series. I have found that too often, people want quick fixes, an “answer” to solve the problem de jour (i.e., urgent matter of the day). Yet changes that actually move the needle in our lives cannot be rushed. A quick flash of insight can create a transformative moment, but the transformation itself (almost invariably) requires a longer period of implementation to take root and create the greatest effect.

Let me give you an example. Say that you move to a bigger apartment so you can have more space. In the first few days or weeks, you might arrive with all of your furniture and boxes, unpack and feel the glory and heightened freedom of your new surroundings. You may feel a new “leash on life” and relish a home environment where so many more things are possible. But if you (quickly or over time) start to fill that space so that it is just as crowded as your old one, the realm of possibility diminishes. You will again feel constricted and constrained.

The same thing happens in the rest of our lives, including in our careers. If you move to a bigger or different role with more space to create impact in or through an organization, but you quickly crowd your days with non-impactful meetings and activities, your new position can feel just as constrained and ineffectual as the old one.

So what do this pandemic and my current mantra of closing your eyes teach us about true freedom, while so many of us are suffering on the front lines or sheltering in place? And how does that relate to what we do on the career front?

First, we cannot control outcomes. We can do our best to create what we seek, but we ultimately can either make our peace with our lack of control or continue to resist (and increase our suffering as a result). Some of us are unemployed or underemployed. Others are “overemployed,” i.e., burdened with the herculean responsibility of strategizing, leading, fixing, triaging, foraging, vetting or otherwise holding the fort during this unprecedented time.

In either case, we can only sit with what is true at this moment. That’s all we have.

Second, turning inward is a healing act. When we close our eyes or soften our gaze, we are not shutting out the world over the longer term. We are restoring our strength so that we can go back out into it. While the world needs more heroes, those heroes need to give themselves permission to recharge. In yoga classes, if you listen closely, you may notice that instructors often suggest you “let your eyes close” rather than “close your eyes.” The first is an act of allowing yourself (to do something), not an act of will.

Allow yourself to turn inward – even if it’s only a few moments of an hour or a few minutes of the day – without worry that you are missing something or failing to complete an urgent task. Changes and tasks will always be waiting for you, and your ability to rise to those changes and tasks will be greatly enhanced if you periodically take time to refresh and center yourself.

Third, our wish not to be vulnerable is illusory. 

I took this self-portrait (eyes closed, feeling vulnerable) in my office a couple of months ago, well before coronavirus dominated our daily lives and our 24/7 news cycle. As I envisioned the post I might write to accompany it, I planned to take some time to explain vulnerability and the macho (toxic) culture of many work environments that seek to stamp out any whiff of weakness.

Yet this week, as senior leaders of across all ranks and ranges of organizations took work-from-home (WFH) videoconference calls with anxious children and barking dogs in the background – and came together over it, rather than judging their colleagues and counterparts for a lack of “discretion” – our collective take on vulnerability has been momentarily suspended. Being vulnerable is a trait we all share, and we can clearly see that through this pandemic. Families are to be protected, not silenced. Lives are to be valued, not treated as something to be fit between more pressing obligations. Vulnerability is something to be recognized as part and parcel of the human condition, as it cannot be avoided.

Anne Marie Segal - eyes closed

Fourth, for a change to last, it must continue to represent our values. Many of us have learned this in other contexts, through other challenges, but what lasting individual and collective change we will carry forward from COVID-19 remains to be seen.

We know that life as usual has been irrevocably altered, but whether those alterations bring us to a better place or simply call for heightened vigilance is a matter of our long-term values. Again, by periodically softening our gaze to the whirlwind of activity, news, adversity and (in some heartbreaking cases) trauma, we can start and continue to ask ourselves where we can find meaning, experience large or small joys of the present moment and build bridges to the direction we are called (both personally and professionally) to follow next.

Be safe. Support those on the front lines. And, from time to time, close your eyes.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach and writer based in Connecticut, not far from New York City, and is sheltering at home with her family (dog, cat, husband and two teenagers who are remarkably committed to flattening the curve).

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