When Adversity Strikes, a New Approach to Leadership Is Needed

Jacques Hart, CEO of Roar Media, talks about how leaders can provide direction and stability to their employees in times of uncertainty.

How has COVID-19 and the circumstances surrounding it affected how you approach leadership and managing employees?

As the CEO of a full-stack marketing agency, the COVID 19 pandemic presents challenges from multiple fronts. We are tasked with keeping our heads, not only when it comes to our team, but also on behalf of the clients who depend on us for the best marketing strategy and implementation, crucially important to them at this time.

Meanwhile, we must also keep an eye on a shifting economy that affects us, as well as our invaluable clients. The temptation here can be to turn strictly inward, as opposed to toward the challenges ahead. Regardless of the situation on any given day, we do our best to gather all the necessary information and make the best decisions for our team and for our clients.

From personal experience, what are some tips you can offer other company owners to help them better lead and manage employees during this time of uncertainty?

In times of crisis like we are now facing, it is never more important to establish the right tone from the top on down. This is when company owners and CEOs need to comport themselves with special thoughtfulness, resisting impulsive and emotional decision-making. During times of anxiety and uncertainty, leaders must demonstrate a higher degree of compassion, trust, stability, transparency, and hopefulness.

In so doing, you will give your team greater confidence, better understanding, and inspiration, and they will know that together we will all come through this.

Some ways to achieve this are as follows:

We hold daily, all-hands-on-deck calls, sharing team insights, observations, learnings, and anecdotes that we are gathering across media, clients, partners, and employees. We also open up this forum for questions and comments.

In doing so, we have come to be better informed and unified as a team, while feeling a measure of stability, confidence, and unity. This has kept us focused on addressing challenges, as opposed to feeling overwhelmed or becoming paralyzed by fear.

We have found that by creating this type of communicative environment and open forum, our team members have effortlessly gravitated toward positive, problem-solving language while fostering an air of hope and determination that resonates within the entire company.

What have you found works well?

What has worked well is working hard and being prepared. You need to take time to survey what is happening in your industry, with your clients, partners, and vendors, and then you need to start developing your playbook and a course of action calculating the possible ramifications of every decision.

This is all about getting ahead of a crisis and being proactive. You have to find time to do some homework and start anticipating the next challenge ahead, putting your company in the best position vis a vis the crisis.

We are telling our clients that this is not the time to silo yourself or to take a go-it-alone attitude. On the contrary, this is your chance to incorporate your team, engage them, get their feedback and execute appropriately, and that’s sound advice we practice here at Roar. You have to gather the best information you can and also be present for your team. If they can’t see you in person because of social distancing or the size of your company, then they still need to be hearing you, or at least reading your thoughts and actions via email or other channels, knowing that you are addressing the problem and thinking of them as part of the solution.

I have also taken some time to communicate individually with team members via G-chat. This has not been about asking for deliverables. Rather, it has been about asking how they are feeling and how things are going working from home. It’s the sort of temperature check we routinely do with friends and family.

We have created a repository of best practices when it comes to strategic messaging for our clients that the entire team can draw from.

We are offering a strategic communications workshop on how to seize success in crisis, to show companies and brands how to pivot and adapt their marketing and messaging strategies to address the moment.

We are making this webinar available free to every business association in South Florida including the travel and hospitality, aviation, non-profits, health care industries, giving them valuable information about how they can adapt and maintain their brand identity while gleaning best practices and insights from the greatest companies.

We have availed ourselves of the technology that ensures and supports our business continuity, using applications like Slack, cloud-based email, calendars, shared folders, and more.

We’ve created a digital buddy system so we know who may not be available for more than two hours.

We have implemented a more flattened business structure, departing from the more hierarchical structure and allowing for greater independence, while assigning project team leaders to take on specific client needs related to the crisis. As a result, we have preserved accountability, while addressing client needs swiftly and successfully. I’m personally proud to see my team step up to these challenges and show what they are capable of both in terms of accountability and adaptability.

Finally, you have to remain positive and maintain a sense of humor. You have to go back to that idea of hope. None of this is insurmountable. This can all be managed together and there is a light-up ahead if we are proactive, present, and work together through this. The course ahead may not be without challenges and hardships, but along the way, we need to stay positive while showing we are human.

What hasn’t worked so well?

 We don’t have much time at our company for what doesn’t work. We tend to figure out what doesn’t work fairly quickly and adapt accordingly. That said, I know from past crises what doesn’t work. And that’s staying stagnant, not taking action, not communicating, and not taking some valuable time to assess the situation from a macro perspective.

Another common mistake in times of crisis is planning too far ahead. Not all answers are available immediately.

What also doesn’t work is giving up on what got you here: your people, your services, your work product, your dream. This is not the time to throw up your hands and give up.

Knee-jerk reactions and impulsive decision-making doesn’t work either. You need to take a step back, talk to experts, maybe take a day for a sanity check from your plan. This is not the time to lead by emotion and there is a lot of it out there now. Don’t run with that pack.

Anything else that’s important and worth mentioning?

There can be advantages within adversity. You really can find ways of creating success from a crisis. On the other side of a challenge, an opportunity is often waiting for your arrival.

As a company, you need to reevaluate your current marketing messaging strategy and adapt it to face and endure the current storm.