Being a trusted leader during uncertainty Being a leader of an organization is truly a difficult task. At the same time, for me, it has been one of the most rewarding opportunities I have had in my life. Becoming a leader has caused me to stretch and grow in ways that I’d never imagined. I have led teams and won… I have led teams and lost. But no matter what, I have always been committed to learning and being a better leader. As a leader, I have made it my job to provide a vision for my team, and to make sure that they have the support, tools and resources to drive us toward that vision. My belief is that I could not reach the vision without them and they would not reach it without me. We need each other. I do not take that relationship for granted. When COVID-19 hit us, we’d just lost a major account and had a headcount that frankly exceeded the amount of work we’d had at the time. Our business development program had all but dried up overnight and in some cases, we were asked to reduce our fees. Looking at it from a financial perspective, things did not look good. Payroll seemed like it was squeaking out the door while we had to make some arrangements with some of our partners in order to maintain those relationships. We were burning through cash as quickly as we could bring it in. Frankly: it hurt. I remember thinking to myself: I could simply cut our headcount and reduce the stress on myself. I was not taking any money home…for months! My personal bills were running behind and I’d had to have some friendly yet veiled conversations with some of my personal creditors, making promises to keep things moving forward, sometimes without having a clue where the money was coming from. At the same time, I am seeing my team members coming to the aid of our clients who were also going through difficult times. They would come together and brainstorm how to develop new product/service offerings or reduce costs in order to help companies just break even. Calls, chats and messages were being exchanged around the clock to keep things moving forward. Then I saw my son get laid off from his job and he was devastated. One business after business after another business closed… and my heart just broke. The state of the world… so many people suffering… so much uncertainty. I couldn’t do that to my team. But then, I’d heard about people like Arthur Blank of Home Depot and Chris Rapp of Triple Crown Construction and so many other leaders whose businesses were definitely hurt by the pandemic and hearts also broke. They knew that their teams were terrified of losing their jobs but they also knew that they could be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. When I was a kid, I remember a saying, “When things get tough, the tough get going.” I’d never understood that back then. But now I think about it – that is what leaders do. When things get difficult, when there is uncertainty, people need leaders – those who are going to step up and get going to make decisions and to make things happen. People need to be able to trust leaders. They need to trust that leaders will have their best interests in mind and won’t be afraid to make the tough decisions. People will follow great leaders into battles that cannot be won simply because they believe in that leader. That is the kind of leader I want to be. Have I arrived? No. Would my team fight for me? I believe so. At the end of the day, by the grace of God, we made it through the Valley of the Shadow of COVID-19. I didn’t let anyone on my team go. It was tough. We had some difficult conversations. We had to make some interesting arrangements in order to get everyone paid and take care of everything. And we made it through. Sure, I am a little greyer, probably lost a few more hairs and grew a few more in the wrong places, but that is life… and life happens. Ask me: would I do it again?
Rick Meekins is the Managing Partner at Aepiphanni, a Business Consultancy, an Atlanta, GA based small business consultancy that provides Management Consulting, Implementation and Managed Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations.