I wonder if you’re like me and you feel a little like Frodo right now. That’s not my usual, but we all rolled past “usual” weeks ago, right?
I’m writing to you from a couple of miles from downtown Seattle right in the thick of this COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic. We’re a few weeks into this lock-down, stay-home thing.
And you? What’s your experience? How are you holding up? Reply and tell me if you want to.
Here’s the quote that made me think of Frodo:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
I totally get where Frodo’s coming from. He didn’t want to deal with that ring, hordes of orcs and the quest business. I really don’t want to deal with this virus thing and the impact on my world. My life was just fine without this mess.
This moment in time is significantly different than anything you or I have seen. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve shepherded organizations through some challenging times through the years: 9/11, oil price crashes, major earthquakes, a wicked recession, a tsunami and a couple of hurricanes to name a few (and that doesn’t get into the crises I’ve caused).
Right now feels different.
Do you feel the same way?
More uncertain…like that car chase trope where the hero’s car comes to rest with a couple of wheels hanging off the cliff. Teetering. Safe. Not safe. (I’m a person of faith and I believe things will ultimately be OK, but “OK” maybe significantly uncomfortable).
As a leader, it seems to me the worst thing you can do is to ignore this time and act like it’s all going to go away or assume that pretty soon things will go back to being the way they used to be.
You can join me in lamenting like Frodo for a minute, but after that, we have to act.
So, what’s the best thing to do?
I can’t have specifics for you but here’s what seems wise to me (I drafted this thinking about organizational/business leaders, but I’m pretty sure all of this applies to you personally and to your family).
Treat this as a genuine, real-deal, serious black swan event. There’s literally no downside to assuming things are changing rapidly and probably not for the best for everyone. Things may never go back to the way they were.
If you run a business or a household, hear me on this: Cash is King. I can’t say how to apply that to your situation but pay attention to what’s happening around you. Some businesses (particularly the small retail, restaurants and entertainment segments in my area) closed permanently after only a few days of this thing. The disruption was so abrupt and unanticipated that they evaporated. Some of those closures were to protect their future. Many of those closures are permanent. Those closures and future closures are ripples that are only beginning to spread throughout the economy.
There may or may not be bailouts for small businesses and nonprofits. I wouldn’t depend on it. Nor should you expect them to be soon enough or sufficient to take care of you.
You should review expenses and cash. Watchdog them both. What’s the length of your runway if things stay this way for 6 months? Or get 20% worse or 50% worse? I hate to say it but there are projections scarier than that. You’ll feel better knowing the specific realities of your situation.
You should check in with your people. This work-from-home thing was an adventure for a few days, but the timeline is extending without a solid end date. Cabin fever and uncertainty chew on each of us differently. Most of us are wondering how the virus will impact our lives and our families.
Fear grows and multiplies in silence. Figure out how you can support and encourage your people. And do it. Find out what they’re worried about. Tell them what you’re worried about (carefully, this isn’t a time to overshare).
But you should share the burden.
Tell the truth. It’s OK to say that you don’t know what’s going to happen or what you’re going to do. Don’t hand out platitudes. That doesn’t help anyone and fools almost no one. Speak all the encouraging truth you can muster.
Stay in contact with your people: your board, your donors, your customers, your clients, your family and those you love.
Remember there are opportunities in every crisis. Keep your eyes open, your mind clear and your heart full.
Just like Frodo, there’s a journey ahead. There will be struggle. Maybe some danger and some sorrow. But there will also be much joy. Count on it.
I’d love to know how you are. Stay safe and keep me posted.
You can always email me: sthomas AT oneicity DOT com
Grateful for you.
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