Whether you are a CEO or an investor, your best leadership is clearly required now, and I admire each of you who is stepping up. I have had quite a few urgent coaching calls this week with CEOs seeking to respond as effectively as possible to the actual and perceived risks of both the virus and steps to contain it. I have seen a lot of vague platitudes being emailed around from everyone from accounting firms to fast food restaurants, but not enough actionable resources. As a twenty-year executive coach, I don’t have a medical license or silver bullet, but I do have some powerful questions for you to consider, especially as you go into the weekend. Take what you like and disregard the rest.

12 Specific Leadership Questions During Times of Uncertainty:

  1. How do I anchor myself and the company on our ‘why’ and vision, now more than ever? How do I demonstrate that the situation is serious, but not add unnecessary fuel to the fire? How can I add transparency and reassurance in an authentic and consistent manner? (If you haven’t explicitly clarified your company’s purpose, you’ll have some time now to do it…)
  2. How do we truly live our company’s values in this situation? (Hint: How many of you have actually pointed to the values as you make decisions about whether to ban travel, encourage working from home, or launch a new offering in the midst of this uncertainty?)
  3. How do I show my team I truly care about them – as people? What personal calls do I want to make to my direct reports? (Hint: Ask “what support do you need now?”) What company-wide email(s) are warranted? Consider:
    • What is the invisible nametag you would want people to “feel” from being around you as the leader? For example, “She cares about more than the numbers.” “He is being serious and authentic, but leaning into action on things we can control.”
    • What small, meaningful gift could I send to the homes of each of my senior team members or other employees adversely impacted by the situation to show I care? Think chocolates for that mid-day work break in the ‘virtual kitchen’ or a card game for them to play with their family when staying inside during evenings.
  4. What do I need from my team? And who else can support me/us? When you ask your team to support you, watch how valued and connected they feel. “Can you help me with this?” is one of the most underutilized and powerful leadership questions I hear from CEOs.
  5. What are several bold actions we can take now or soon? How do we increase our cash runway and put in place contingency plans? What costs could we cut now that we have been debating (as the adage goes: “Never waste a good crisis.”) Better yet, what radical ideas would turn this situation from a negative to a positive over the near to medium term?
  6. How can we communicate and stay connected, especially if we are leveraging a virtual model for some period of time? What new cadence of video or chat communication would help? What new rituals do we need? What might make things fun? For example, one of our clients created a personal emoji for each member of the team this week, which had people laughing and bonding more than ever expected.
  7. How can we brainstorm the most useful questions to ask before we jump to solving? Questions are more powerful than answers; just like ‘having your ladder on the right building is more important than sprinting to the top of the rungs.’ In these times of uncertainty, our human tendency is to react vs. pausing to consider our range of options and implications.  By starting with brainstorming questions (not answers), CEOs draw out a more robust and diverse option set from their leadership teams, usually resulting in more creative solutions.
  8. How do I take care of myself, and maintain my objectivity, balance, and optimism? Now’s the time to double-down on (vs. abandon) the physical/emotional/spiritual practices (e.g., the right food, sleep, meditation, etc.) that you know serve and sustain you.  For example, I have been working out and meditating more than ever and focusing on manifesting ideal outcomes. I have been repeatedly asking and answering the quintessential coaching question “What do I want?” And, “How would this play out, ideally.” Strangely, the phone has been ringing with opportunity from unexpected places over the last week…
  9. What are the relevant lessons that I can evoke and apply from prior periods of uncertainty that I’ve faced? Here’s your chance to apply the skills/wisdom/perspective you’ve accumulated over the years.  Consider not only what surfaces in your mind, but also in your gut/intuition and elsewhere in your body.
  10. What’s already happened over the past few days/weeks that I may need to let go of? Acknowledge any missteps and really own them (without excuses, without externalizing them and without beating yourself up).  Take a breath and leave them behind you. “Nobody gets to be perfect, including you!”
  11. Where can I cultivate more of a curiosity and growth mindset (vs. a fear or fixed outcomes mindset) for myself and my team during this period? Times of uncertainty create openings and opportunities for those who are willing to explore them. However, it’s also important to recognize that you and/or some members of your team may not be able to rise above the fear right away.  Strive to meet people where they are, without judgment; but also, be attentive to one person’s fear disproportionately hampering the broader team.
  12. How do I want to be remembered in six months for my reaction to and leadership through this situation? What will I want to be able to congratulate myself and my team on? Remember: “Opportunity favors the bold.”

JP Flaum
CEO & Founder