How to Be a True Leader During the Coronavirus Outbreak: A Conversation with DDI CEO, Tacy Byham, Ph.D.

The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis unlike any other in recent times. It has placed extraordinary demands on business leaders and beyond. The ramifications on our world in terms of global health and economy is sure to be quite significant, and we’re still in the early stages of this crisis.

In this crisis, businesses are being forced to operate in ways they haven’t been accustomed to operate, and communication, systems, the entire way some business conduct their day-to-day affairs has been disrupted. Some businesses are better equipped for this challenge than others.

Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global leadership consulting firm with over 50 years of experience helping organizations hire, promote, and develop exceptional leaders, is perfectly situated to advise business leaders on navigating this troubling time. And they are stepping up to do exactly that by offering a free micro course on leading virtual meetings as a way to help other businesses during the coronavirus outbreak. It is completely free and it open to anyone who would like to take it. Although designed for leaders of any level, it could be helpful to anyone who meets virtually.

Free Micro Course on Leading Virtual Meetings

tonyvlahos-tracybyhamExecuNet’s Tony Vlahos asked DDI’s CEO Tacy Byham to share some leadership practices that would help executives  respond effectively to this crisis. Read below for her insights:

Tony Vlahos: Many people blame the coronavirus epidemic on globalization. They say that the only way to prevent outbreaks such as this one is to de-globalize the world: restrict travel, reduce trade. What do you feel is the real antidote to epidemic?

Tacy Byham: While in the short-term we need to reduce travel to deal with the immediate health crisis, it’s not a long-term solution. Our company has been global for nearly its entire 50-year history, and that global perspective has led to many of our deepest insights and profitable innovations. As we move forward, the solution has to be about improving international cooperation around health standards prevention internationally.

Tony Vlahos: In times of sudden disruption, risk management becomes very important. What are some measures organizations need to be deploying now?

Tacy Byham: The first risk is absolutely to your people. Every organization needs to be prepared that they may have some or even many of their people who are affected by the virus. Senior leaders should be making sure that they have strong business continuity plans to ensure that employees are cross-trained and can cover for co-workers who may get sick. In particular, they need to make sure that they have strong succession plans in place in case any of their leaders are unable to work for an extended period of time, particularly senior leaders.

Unquestionably, there’s also risk to the business itself. Companies need to be looking at how they can quickly pivot to adjust their business, and alongside that, their people strategy to ensure they’ll be able to carry out those new strategies.

Tony Vlahos: The speed and agility with which organizations respond can be the difference between losing lives as well as tens of millions of dollars. Apple, Starbucks, and Ikea have temporarily closed stores. Automakers have delayed production. Airlines have canceled flights. What are some other responses organizations need to model?

Tacy Byham: With the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, businesses are going to have to make long-term plans to avoid long-term damage to their organizations. Some businesses may have the ability to institute long-term work-from-home solutions to avoid business stoppages and find ways to address clients’ needs remotely. This makes leaders’ ability to lead a team virtually even more essential.

Tony Vlahos: In fast-moving and uncertain situations, many leaders face questions they may not even have answers to. Crisis communication is essential. What are some ways leaders need to communicate differently during this time?

Tacy Byham: Leaders’ main priority is employee safety, so they must lead with an abundance of caution and transparency. Leaders will need to dig deep inside and communicate frankly, inspire confidence, and ease fears. They’ll also need to listen to people’s words and feelings and choose an effective course of action. All at the same time.

Leaders also need to focus on communicating facts. During a crisis, rumor mills become very active. Leaders, especially senior leaders, need to work to ensure information is accurate and really reflects what is happening. Leaders should make sure they do their own research before making comments and avoid letting their personal opinions cloud their judgment. They should also work to make sure they are present and visible, and employees know they can come to them with questions.

Tony Vlahos: Managing a remote work force requires strong virtual leadership skills. What are those?

Tacy Byham: In virtual meetings, employees can easily be distracted, disengaged or even fall into social loafing habits. Leaders need to set some ground rules to ensure participants understand what is expected in virtual meetings. For example, participants should turn on their cameras and not mute their microphones to reduce social loafing and encourage participation. Leaders should engage participants in the chat or with flip boards to generate ideas or address questions.

Leaders should be trained to lead virtual meetings to ensure effectiveness. A short training course, such as DDI’s Leading Virtual Meetings, helps meeting leaders keep engagement and productivity high while working remotely.

Tony Vlahos: What are some other ways leaders can more effectively lead through this critical window?

Tacy Byham: With emotions running high, leaders need to connect with employees’ emotional state by listening and responding with empathy.  Heed words that express fear and personal concerns. These words include afraid, family, home, health or scared. They signal that leaders must act quickly and respond with empathy to respect or the person’s personal needs.

Empathy statements show that their leaders recognize the emotions and fear they have, and, most importantly, that they are understood. This can happen through frequent communication and engaging employees. Leaders must build their trust by having messages delivered frequently and consistently, with candor and honesty. They must speak to employees with more assurance than authority, so leaders must be concerned with their tone as well as content.

William Flamme

William Flamme

William Flamme is ExecuNet's Associate Director of Content Marketing, where he develops engaging job search, career path, and leadership insight to build ExecuNet's brand recognition as the leader in senior-level executive job search and all matters career.

He delivers executive-level content across the various properties under the ExecuNet brand, amplifying the power of ExecuNet's expert voices and shaping the content strategy.

Prior to joining ExecuNet in 2008, Will earned a master's degree in education and taught fifth grade and sixth grade. As a teacher, he deepened his appreciation for the written word and mastered skills necessary for managing writers who sometimes view deadlines as homework. It is his training as an educator which allows Will to take complex ideas and make them simple for busy executives to understand and to execute.

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