How To Lead In Times Of Panic And Fear

How To Lead In Times Of Panic And Fear

By Karla Zehnder, CEO

When I was 8 years old, my mother, sister and I were robbed at gunpoint in a grocery store parking lot. I remember it vividly – we were walking to the car to load the groceries in, when three men walked up behind us and told my mother, “Give me your purse!” I was young and my mother shoved me behind her, so I don’t remember every detail, but the ONE thing I most distinctly, clearly and vividly remember is how I froze when I saw the gun. I never saw the attacker well enough to describe him or tell you what he was wearing. Once I saw the gun, that’s ALL I saw – and I froze.

The exact same situation is going on right now with the Coronavirus. People are frozen in fear, eyes locked on the news, unable to think clearly. This may be okay for most, but for business owners and executives; responsible for leading a business, it’s a surefire way for your company to go under.

Now more than ever, it’s critical to ACT. But first you must escape the clutches of fear and avoid making anxiety-driven decisions from a place of scarcity. NOBODY is smart when they’re spooked. So, what shall we do?

For starters, SHORTEN your time frame for dealing with the situation. Over the last week, I’ve had critical, major decisions change hour by hour. In such a situation, it’s near impossible to plan for the month, and certainly not this quarter or this year. Chaos reigns. Therefore, I would suggest you have a daily huddle with your team to discuss new developments and new and appropriate changes to your actions.

Second, it’s critical to communicate with and preserve your clients and whatever business you currently have. Not communicating with your clients – and getting ahead of THEIR fears, concerns and questions regarding what you’re doing – is a failure. NOW is the time to reach out with resources and to be a source of level-headed, practical solutions while everyone else is running around screaming in terror. Many of them may be frozen in fear too. You had better get to your clients now and figure out how to deal with this short-term forest fire, how you can enabling them to continue to do business.

At a minimum, tell them you’re still open for business. If you’re experiencing an increase in workloads, let them know so they can understand you’re not ignoring them. Share with them how your employees are taking extra precautions when doing client visits to avoid spreading the virus (if you’re even doing client visits at all). You might suggest putting projects on hold – or PERHAPS suggesting that now is the best time for you to move ahead with one.

Third, change your marketing approach – but certainly don’t stop. Now is probably not the best time to do “normal” prospecting; because everyone is so distracted and dealing with a crisis, they can’t pay much attention to your offers. HOWEVER…it is certainly 100% appropriate to reach out via e-mail, LinkedIn, by referral or by phone to say, “Hey…if your world is on fire trying to figure out how to keep business going, we’re here to help. Here’s a link to my calendar if you want to grab a quick 10- to 15-minute call to discuss.” I would also strongly encourage regular, more frequent updates to your clients, outlining useful strategies they can use. Be a connector of people and share out what others are experiencing and doing to keep their businesses running right now.

The key here is to create value and not try to hardcore sell them. People don’t like that in the best of times, and when they’re highly stressed and scared, they’ll ignore you (best case) or outright resent you (worst case) for trying. That’s not to suggest you should stop selling if the opportunity presents itself and someone needs and wants to buy what you’re selling. In some cases, it’s perfectly appropriate. But your marketing right NOW should not ignore the COVID-19 crisis and the panic being felt by everyone. TIE your solutions in to helping people deal with this. Provide free or at-cost services if you can. This will foster goodwill that will come back to roost as more business in the future when this storm eventually blows over.

The reality is, there IS opportunity in this if you look for it and ACT on it – and I don’t mean the evil opportunist who buys up all the toilet paper in the neighborhood and then sells it for triple the price. What I mean is that companies who wouldn’t hire you before might come screaming to you for support. Clients who stubbornly refused to get to try your solution may be open to it. With layoffs and companies inevitably closing, more talent will be in the marketplace. Not all businesses are going to survive this for all sorts of reasons (including their failure to help their clients, as well as for cash-flow reasons). Which means you’ll pick up more business because you’re the company that survived like Forrest Gump’s shrimp boat in the storm. Money will be practically free to get (loans). Remember, some industries are booming right now and will continue to profit from this disaster. But if you’re sitting frozen, too scared to move, you’ll be rolled over.

One of things I often talk about is the fallacy of security, and never before has this been more apparent. Bluntly, there is NONE – which is what this crisis has shown us. In a matter of weeks, businesses will be undone, fortunes lost, savings depleted and the best-laid plans smashed to pieces. EVERYTHING can change in a single moment, and nobody saw this coming. This is why you should NEVER forget, the only real security we have is our ability to produce and perform, our ability to ACT…and those are skills you’ve either been a busy ant storing away and building up, or a silly grasshopper thinking you’ll “get to them later.”