How to Grow Your Company and Become an Industry Leader Amid an Economic Downturn

May 20, 2020

3 Inspiring Leaders & 7 Ideas to Navigate Your Company’s Recovery

Right in the middle of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, I attended a virtual webinar entitled “Scaling Up Summit 2.0 – Leading the Recovery” led by Verne Harnish, the author of Scaling Up. Harnish has helped firms navigate through crises multiple times, including his own business after 9/11.

For the summit, he gave 12 thought leaders just 10 minutes to provide practical, “what we need to know today” advice. Thanks to his experience as a moderator, I enjoyed more useful ideas per minute than any other forum I could have attended – the brand promise of the summit.

I want to approach this essay with the theme of becoming a leader when the larger economy is in recovery. To accomplish this, I will share some ideas and inspiration from three specific speakers that will help you navigate your business through this economic storm.

You Must Learn to Scale Up if You Want to Lead

Verne Harnish kicked off the event with apt analogy: we may all be in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat. The scale-ups are the companies that will lead the economy out of any morass – including our current one. Like the medical first responders who are doing an outstanding job, your business can be an economic first responder for your city and country.

As we exited the 2008 Great Recession, 92% of the job growth came out the efforts of companies that knew how to scale up. These unsung hero companies might not be well-known, but they brought both the job generation and the innovation required for recovery at that time.

Harnish also recounted some insight he heard in an interview of Mark Cuban. When asked what two things a company should do to get out of this, Cuban quickly replied with “Be agile and resilient.” Those topics will be drivers for the rest of this essay.

Resilience is Bouncing Forward, Not Bouncing Back

Michael Bungay Stanier is the author of the best-selling coaching book, The Coaching Habit, with nearly 1 million copies sold. He also founded Box of Crayons; a company that helps organizations shift from advice-driven to curiosity-led. His new book, The Advice Trap, helps you “tame your advice monster.”

With his 10 minutes, Stainer spoke about becoming a better leader during this time of remote employees. He led off by asking, “How can you work with your remote teams to improve their engagement and alertness?”

His answer was simple: Start any meeting by checking on people’s attentiveness and state of mine. Leaders should specifically ask their people,

“How actively engaged do you plan to be? How focused do you plan to be?”

In that moment, people run out of stock responses. They move beyond “I’m here” to “I’m making a choice as to how I want to show up.” It’s a powerful technique! This approach to leadership in the “Work From Home” era ties to resilience in a few ways.

A common definition of resilience is “the ability to bounce back.” However, there’s strong evidence that our world is never going back to any sort of pre-coronavirus state. Normal has left the building. In fact, if there ever was a normal, it is not here anymore.

Instead, let’s think about it as “bouncing forward.” Creating a “new normal” will help us become the robust company of our dreams, or what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “anti-fragile.” To get there, we must ask ourselves:

·       “Can we get to a different new place with the conditions that are around us?” and

·       “How can we use this as an opportunity to become a better leader?”

It starts with building this idea of resilience – bouncing forward or anti-fragility – for you and with your team. When you actively pursue becoming a smarter and wiser leader, you can teach your team to also become smarter and wiser.

This does not mean dishing out advice, ideas, solutions, and opinions. Rather, it means embracing curiosity as never before.

Curiosity is Essential to Good Leadership

Under stress, your brain immediately goes to certainty. It wants clear answers, definitions, and a path forward. It seeks out only what it knows and takes solace in those known knowns.

But while there is absolutely a place for certainty, you shouldn’t retreat into it. Good leaders must find the right balance between what’s certain and what’s open for interpretation and curiosity. The curious mind is a superpower, and frankly, it’s underutilized in our world.

When you combine the two – resilience with curiosity – three virtues arise to help you become a better person, a stronger leader, and a better influencer:

#1 Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about becoming more aware of our surroundings. You have a better grasp of what reality is. I encourage you to ask this powerful question to ground yourself in reality:

What do I know to be true?

When you find yourself in a stressful situation about your business or the future, you must stop, take a breath, and determine what you know to be true in this moment. You will be stunned at the small amount of data you actually know to be true. Contrary to what we’re taught about “truth,” we only have a tiny bit of hard data compared to this vast amount of interpretation around it.

The question is designed to help you understand the context of your decision so you can be more conscious, smarter, and wiser about what’s reality and what’s merely your perception.

#2 Empathy

Think of this as being more aware of the “other.” Empathy helps you become more aware of that person across the Zoom screen from you. When we are under pressure, we tend to go into the “just get things done whoever you are” mode. You have lost all connection with that person as a human being and see then, instead, as a means to an end.

Stainer introduced a question that has been revolutionary for the teams he leads. At the end of a meeting, the participants ask each other:

“What needs to be said that hasn’t been said?”

It is an amazing moment because that’s when those half-thought or unsaid things get surfaced. It’s an opportunity to celebrate people or process ideas so that the energy is clean, clear, and strong as long as possible. The goal is to build resilient relationships.

#3 Humility

If mindfulness is being situationally aware and empathy is being aware of others, humility is becoming more aware of self. Humility wants you to understand who you are in all your glorious, confusing, and brilliant messiness. It makes you ask yourself a really important question in a time of stress:

“Who am I at my best?”

Because if there is ever a time for you to step up and show off as the best version of yourself, it’s right now.

By asking these three questions regularly, you get a better sense of the reality of a situation, who the other person is, and who you are. By becoming increasingly aware of the key aspects of any dynamic situation, you have a greater chance of making better connections and better decisions.

The Importance of Team Dynamics

Keith Ferrazzi is considered a top expert on managing virtual workplaces. As the author of Who’s Got Your Backand several other New York Times bestsellers, he shared a list of essential dos and don’ts when leading teams of people all working remotely.

What Ferrazzi believes is necessary, particularly in this remote environment, is to go back to your team and ask for a “re-contracting.” In a world where teams have gotten smaller physically and digitally, this concept helps you reboot the commitments that your team has for each other in this remote world. At, Ferrazzi outlines eight areas you need to recontract your efforts around, but I want to focus on three of them.

#1 Collaboration

Start using your meetings for actual problem-solving. In the old world, we’d all sit in one room, and, as the leader, you would most likely dominate the conversation. With Zoom, you can use functionality that lets you break out into small rooms with the push of a button.

Even if you have three or four people in your organization, you can have them go off and chew on a question you introduced. Options include:

·       “Should our product change as a result of the marketplace today?”

·       “What are our marketing strategies, and what’s the best positioning for them in the new world?”

·       “How will we develop greater loyalty to pre-existing customers today?”

·       “How could we reduce expenses?”

According to a study conducted by Ferrazzi and his team, 71% of teams claimed that they don’t get value from being part of a team meeting. Intentional collaboration solves this problem!

#2 Candor

Ferrazzi’s research also showed that 74% of teams claim they cannot speak up honestly in a meeting. He recommends setting aside time in your meeting for smaller breakout groups. In those small groups, people will answer the following question:

“What’s not being said that needs to be said in this meeting right now?”

Notice: that’s same question Stainer asked above! You will wait in the main room for your team to come back and give you the candor your organization needs.

#3 Accountability

When you get into your weekly Zoom team meeting, utilize the time to bulletproof your success. Once somebody gives their standup – what have they done, what their challenges are, what do they need to do the following week – once again break them into small rooms to discuss three questions:

·       “What is it that we would challenge this person that they might have missed?”

·       “What is it that we would innovate with a crazy idea for this person that they might have missed?”

·       “What could we do in service for this individual?”

No, you don’t have to do this every week for every team member, but the entire process is designed to ramp up the fact that the whole team owns everyone’s success. We can coach one another. We should give one another constructive feedback. We will do everything we can possibly do.

Shifting accountability from being purely individualistic to peer-to-peer will transform the effectiveness of your team and company. And it will remove the sole burden of you having to coach everyone.

Are you interested in learning how you can bring these seven principles from these three innovative leaders to life for your team or business? I’m ready to help you become the leader your company, industry, and world needs in these challenging times. Contact me today for a free consultation.