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Lead in the Pandemic by John Shalaby

An emotionally and physically exhausted CEO leans in during a video chat with her executive management team and says, “we should have developed a pandemic playbook!”. The truth is: we all wish we had a playbook for these uncertain times, but to most of the business community that just isn’t the reality. Not even the history books can help us understand, anticipate or prepare for what’s to come in the weeks, months, or even years ahead. It is truly an unprecedented event. 

Despite all the uncertainty there are a few things we, as leaders, know and must always remember. 

First and foremost, this is not the end. This is a major event never before seen in the modern age, but we will persevere. We will live, we will grow, we will build and we will again be free. It’s not a matter of “if” but rather “when.”

Second, we must lead. It’s easy to be frightened by the uncertainties of tomorrow but being a leader carries a different responsibility. It means we must inspire and build hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Hope that we have not seen our brightest days. Hope that we will learn and grow and be stronger than ever before. Be a leader. Businesses all over the world are making difficult decisions that impact staffing, compensation, and other variable costs, and undoubtedly those decisions may be necessary. This doesn’t mean businesses can’t respond to current needs but keeping a pulse on the long game.  

After all, isn’t this capitalism? Every so often, for a variety of reasons, markets adjust. This is one of those times. Companies that aren’t overleveraged will survive. New companies will start. Some may flourish. That is how the system works and will continue to work in this age and the next. Maintaining hope means that you are continuing to invest in strategic projects while also adapting to the “new world,” like the ability to manage within a more remote environment. Leaning one hundred percent toward a short-term fix will leave you on your heels and unprepared for the future when this passes; and this will pass.

Lastly, it would also be shortsighted if we, as leaders, don’t acknowledge that COVID-19 has changed the world. Yes, the world as we know it will never be the same. To what degree, no one knows. But that’s okay. Some of the most intuitive and innovative ideas come out during times of transformation. This brings me back to inspiration. As leaders we must inspire those we are honored to lead. Some will be asked to do more with less. But it is in those times when we are pushed beyond our limits that something truly amazing can happen. 

From experience people do their best work when following a vision, and they believe they are contributing to something greater than themselves. People operate at their worst when consumed with fear. Eliminate the fear and focus on the transformation. Embrace this change and help the team see it as a journey to make the world a better place. This applies to any business in any sector. Some will be more challenged than others, but leadership is leadership. The formula works today, tomorrow, and in the many days to come.


John Shalaby

John Shalaby has spent the past 15 years applying continuous improvement principles in the complex matrix known as “healthcare”. He is passionate about transformation, both from a process and a digital sense. He is considered a subject matter expert in supply chain and logistics leading several projects; both at Fortune 1000 and small business, that have helped shape successful business strategies. John graduated with a BS in business management from Roosevelt University and an MBA with a focus on managerial finance from DePaul University.

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