Top 3 COVID-19 Leadership Lessons for Our New Business Realities

October 16, 2020

Case categories include: Founder’s Insights   Leadership   Strategy & Planning   

Top 3 Covid-19 Leadership Lessons for Our New Business Realities

By Paul Witkay, Founder & CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s hard not to reflect on what has been one of the most transformative years in our lifetime. While I’ve lived through both the bursting of the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s and the Great Recession in 2008, neither had the universal impact of COVID-19. Now, social distancing has become the norm, international travel has been stifled, and there is a global atmosphere of uncertainty. While these elements made maintaining strong leadership a challenge, they have also provided ample learning opportunities for the near future.

Through ongoing discussions with Alliance of CEOs members, I’ve seen the majority of COVID-19 leadership lessons stem from two primary factors:

  • The move to remote work
  • The adaptation and refocus of businesses to serve customers in new ways during COVID-19 and beyond

Although every company is unique, the lessons of COVID-19 are applicable across the business spectrum. As we emerge from the pandemic, they will form long-term strategies and prepare us for the next new normal.

What We’ve Learned from the Move to Remote Work

For many of us, COVID-19 meant that the office couldn’t be—and may still not be—a reliably safe environment. Accordingly, work largely moved from one centralized location to disparate home workspaces. This sea of change has left us with one central takeaway:

1. We Can Work Anywhere When There’s Clear Communication

Unless your company already offered telecommuting before the pandemic, the shift to remote work was likely a major adjustment. I know it was for me. While many were concerned about how this change would affect company productivity, surveys of Alliance members show that it has actually led to an increase in productivity within many organizations. What do these organizations share? Clear communication from the top down.

Teams can work anytime and anywhere if each member knows their individual responsibilities and they have the tools to work toward them. To accomplish this, leaders need to develop clear goals across the organization and ensure that employees have the resources they need to be successful. Regular video calls and chat channels can help your enterprise achieve both of these, as can surveys and other forms of regular feedback. If you set your employees up for success and listen to their needs, productivity will follow.

What We’ve Learned from a Year of Business Pivots

Although some businesses had readily adaptable models that thrived throughout 2020, many of us have had to review our day-to-day operations and discover new ways to be profitable. From this come two significant COVID-19 leadership lessons.

2. With a New Normal Comes New Market Opportunities

Just as the pandemic demanded a move to remote work for the sake of survival, many companies have had to change focus to stay profitable in the age of COVID-19. With widespread supply chain disruptions and some industries facing complete shutdown, leaders must stay resilient and open to new opportunities.

Some of my Alliance colleagues serve as prime examples of this and have made smart operational changes to great effect. A few examples include:

  • Telecommunication companies have expanded their software capabilities to address telehealth needs.
  • Manufacturers have shifted their output on creating in-demand medical supplies such as masks, sanitizers and ventilators.
  • Software companies have created products that improve the work-from-home experience, such as survey programs, engagement hubs, or intuitive cybersecurity.

Of course, business changes will look different for every company and are influenced by countless factors. But one factor should remain steady across the board: a focus on fulfilling customer needs.

3. Customers Must Remain at the Heart of Your Efforts

You never want to lose sight of why your customers have stayed with you over the years, whether you’re a small business with deep local roots or a large operation with a global presence. Keeping the customer at the heart of your enterprise ensures that your core values remain intact, even in the midst of tremendous change.

Before making any major business shifts, it’s essential to consider how you’re improving the lives of your customers. To do this with my team, we perform a periodic reevaluation of our company’s mission. During our discussions, we reiterate why we do what we do, and why what we do matters. It reminds us of why the company was started and what our founding principles are, while helping us reimagine how to best meet the evolving needs of our customers.

Implementing COVID-19 Leadership Lessons for a Stronger Future

As we near the end of 2020, a large-scale return to the worksite is looking more and more achievable. With a new business reality starting to take shape, it’s clear to me that the lessons from COVID-19 will prove to be invaluable. If these lessons are applied correctly, business leaders can realize significant strategic advantages well into the future. But if we ignore them, we risk being at a serious disadvantage.

The question of which lessons to prioritize has become a regular point of discussion within the Alliance community. As a group, we have all experienced variations of the ideas presented above. By sharing our perspectives, we have all become better prepared for whatever the future may bring. Organizations succeed when knowledge and wisdom are candidly shared. As we begin to move beyond the pandemic, I’m confident that the leadership lessons learned from COVID-19 will be among our most valuable assets.

For more thoughts on applying COVID-19 leadership lessons for our new business realities, contact the Alliance of CEOs today.