During the Great Depression, “…it seemed as though the very fabric of the nation and our society was unraveling.”

This insight was provided by a 97-year-old woman who was sharing her story with a group of high school seniors who were preparing to head off and make their way in the world. The next sentiment that she shared was that while one needed time to grieve the loss of what was familiar and for the loss of the hard work that had to be recreated, there was not an unlimited time for grief.

In her sage words,

“during the depression, you could have, at most, a few hours to mourn the loss of a job, a business, a home, or a farm that you loved… then it was time to work on surviving”.

Wisdom for Today

Her thoughtful and kind message, laced with a strong dose of “pick yourself up by the bootstraps”, is particularly relevant in our world today.

Many businesses have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 virus and some have lost everything. In the midst of the pandemic, we see long-held customs such as shaking hands going by the wayside. We experience store aisles with people in facemasks staying six feet apart and making certain to converse as little as possible.

While there is a short time that we can allow ourselves to feel bad about the ravages of COVID 19, the time is rapidly approaching where we will need to “dust ourselves off… and get back on the horse that threw us”.

Leadership, during this unprecedented time of uncertainty, is faced with the task of finding and plotting a new course forward. Because of the many possible scenarios for partial or full reopening of the economy, one must consider simultaneously, several different possibilities for how that reopening may take shape.

Leaders in every business and profession have been understandably reacting to the quickly shifting landscape that the COVID 19 virus has imposed upon us. The governmental and public health responses to this crisis have restricted the economy in ways seen only a few times during the last 120 years. This leaves the leaders of individual businesses with a very challenging terrain to navigate.

Moving Forward

A quote that says "There is no one giant step that does it. It's a lot of little steps." by Peter A. Cohen

Although it would be wonderful to look out 18 to 36 months as we often do, what is required at this moment is a series of 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day plans. These short-term plans can allow businesses to remain focused on staying financially afloat, and also make strides at taking care of their most valuable asset, their team members.

Included inside of the short-term plans need to be regular communication strategies to inform employees of the current status of the company. When a person is furloughed or laid off the immediate reaction is a feeling of loss and separation. Thoughtful leaders make the effort to keep team members, even those currently separated from the company, “in the loop” and connected.

The ability of a company to begin to ramp back up after the worst of the crisis is over, will be largely dependent on the return of highly trained team members choosing to return. Because certain sectors of the economy are booming during this crisis (Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Grocery Stores, and Trucking) there is a possibility that some key team members may have moved on to different careers, taking their skills with them.

Plans for rehiring, training, professional development, reconnecting with customers, and reestablishing the need in the mind of wary consumers for the service your business provides, must be on the “front burner” for leaders as the chart the way forward during these difficult weeks.

As the 97-year-old woman was finishing her talk to the high school seniors, she reemphasized that the Great Depression and the hardships that it created were, “not a nice thing to have to endure”. However, “we became very thrifty and thoughtful about where we spent our hard-earned money.” She went on to say, “that we were very aware of the value of our family and the goodness of our neighbors.” Her last words were, “there is a time to grieve, a time to be sad, and a time to feel a bit lost… but that is only a short time, and we learned quickly that when life is tough, we needed to be strong”.

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