Pandemic Leadership Lessons…or as I like to call it COVID-19 Business School

Best Practices, CEO Corner : Article

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered offices nationwide, disrupted classroom learning and upended many of the norms of business and education. But despite campuses being closed around the world, in many ways, COVID-19 created its own learning opportunities. For the past year, I’ve found myself enrolled in CBS— COVID-19 Business School. It taught me valuable lessons in leadership, communications and more. Here’s a glimpse at the curriculum:

Decision Theory 101: Making the Call

Everyone was fast to call the pandemic an “unprecedented situation.” In an unprecedented situation, there’s no playbook, and there is often imperfect information. The job of a leader is to make decisions in those situations. Listen. Learn. Decide. And realize that decisions maybe be right and may be wrong, but you can’t be inflexible—you must be willing to adapt as new information emerges.

Economics 101: Resource Management

It’s said that cash is king in business and nowhere is that more true than in a downturn. Businesses that responded quickly and moved on managing expenses and increasing their borrowing capacity survived. Those that burned cash or were slow simply did not.

Communications 101: Overcommunication Made Easy

For employees, customers and stakeholders, this has and continues to be a time of great uncertainty. The antidote for uncertainty is communication. At our company, we provided regular updates on what was happening with our Covid response, doubled down on transparency and established regular informal “open door” touchpoints with leadership.

Computer Science 101: Leveraging Technology

Love it or hate it, Zoom and video conferencing tools were invaluable mechanisms to keep people connected, as were file share and other collaboration sites. These technologies are here to stay and will be a vital part of our work culture going forward—they will serve to globalize companies and enable vast changes in the way we work.

Marketing 101: Spotting your Opportunities

Believe it or not, there were opportunities to be had last year. Some restaurants shifted to take-out and thrived. Our business shifted from planning face-to-face meetings to planning remote meetings. The key was to do as Wayne Gretzky said—don’t skate where the puck is, skate where the puck is going to be.

Psychology 101: Managing Morale

As a CEO, this the biggest part of my job. My role as a leader is to inspire and equip those around me. That means being positive in the face of adversity, listening to people’s needs and taking the steps needed to create positive energy in a time of chaos.

Physical Education 101: Wellness

There’s a reason that airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. You can’t help those around you if you need help yourself. Leaders in the pandemic had to remember the importance of taking care of themselves—staying healthy and maintaining balance. These are valuable lessons for all of us to carry forward for years to come.

In his recent book “Excellence Now: The 43 Number One’s” Tom Peters wrote, “Leader, this is, make no mistake, the defining moment of your career. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Take care of your neighbors. Take care of your workmates.” I can think of no better words as our graduation address from COVID-19 Business School.

This has, indeed, been a challenging year. But it has also been a year full of incredible opportunities for growth and learning.

Interested in additional COVID-19 Business School resources? Check out our latest COVID-19 Business School podcast and our live event recording and presentation slides.


Featured Author: Andy Freed, CEO, Virtual, Inc.

As Virtual’s CEO, Andy oversees the company’s client teams, along with the organization’s overall service quality and management practices. He has more than 20 years of experience working with associations, non-profits, and political organizations, and he has managed a wide range of entities, from small startups to multi-million-dollar organizations with members spread throughout the globe. With Virtual for the past 18 years, Andy previously served as Vice President and CIO of the Massachusetts Hospital Association and currently serves on the organization’s board, as well as the Board of Overseers of Wellforce Healthcare. He is a graduate of Harvard University, and he received his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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