I was in San Francisco last Friday and Saturday as the news escalated. After weeks of seeing it unfold from afar, we were facing real threats of a novel coronavirus outbreak in the USA. And it was starting right in my hometown of Seattle.
Meanwhile, work goes on. I was in the Bay Area for meetings, and judging a pitching competition with more than 60 startups on stage and hundreds in the audience. So as the news streamed in, I found myself shaking hands and sharing hugs and eating food from a buffet in a moment where I just wanted to lock myself in and avoid germs. I went on Amazon and ordered emergency supplies to keep my family fed and my daughters diapered no matter what. I thought about all the travel up ahead, how much of my team’s roadmap depends on large events and takes us on the road.
I started to feel an overwhelming nostalgia, wanting the comfort of my parent’s home. I wanted to be taken care of. I didn’t feel ready or equipped to be the grown up at this scary time. But I also knew that I didn’t have a choice.
We find ourselves at the beginning of a period of heightened uncertainty, and it’s really scary. The 24-hour news cycle, social media, and pay-per-click headlines are all adding to the sense of impending doom. Numbers are changing by the minute. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know for how long. What are we supposed to do in the meantime?
With this flurry of information that is coming at us from every corner, there is one single action that matters above all else: The most important thing is that we all stay calm. Because life goes on. Our clients still have KPIs to hit. Our employees need paychecks. Our families need caring for. And all of that requires that we keep on keeping on.
As a CEO, my first action was to reevaluate our roadmap. We’re lucky we’re a small, nimble team that can pivot quickly. And since much of what we do is already online, it’s actually a net positive that we get to lean into that digital muscle of ours over the next few weeks. Expect some exciting programs that won’t compromise on our excellence, but that you will be able to participate safely from the comfort of your home or office.
At the same time, I realized that my team was more eager to hear from me about how we will work, rather than what we will work on. Some had concerns about spreading germs unknowingly, taking public transport, being in public unnecessarily. Some had concerns about social isolation and losing synch with each other because we’ve never really been super active on slack (I fall into the latter category). We’re a team that likes each other’s company. We connect in person better than we do online. But we’re going to have to get better at it, and be intentional in that attempt.
I’m not sharing any of this as advice to others. I don’t feel in any way equipped to say how we should each run our companies, how we can comfort our teams in this uncertain time. I am of the belief that we should all stay up to speed from reliable and primary sources of information, follow instructions, and not add to the panic. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.
I am sharing this because I’m guessing that I’m not the only leader out there who is also a little scared, and because I think that it is healthy to admit that to each other, so we can talk openly about how we will deal with the situation at hand. At this moment, the panic is spreading faster than the pandemic itself. Only by opening up, collecting facts, and analyzing them calmly, will we persevere through this. The last thing we need are leaders who conceal the truth, and I refuse to be one of them.
If you are scared, or if you are not, whatever you’re feeling today, it’s perfectly ok. Take the time you need for yourself. And when you are ready, show up for your team with honesty, kindness and an open heart.