How Do You Lead When Life Throws You a Curve-ball (like Covid-19)?

Guest Post by Neal Black

As I write this I am sitting at home, away from my team, not quite in lock-down mode but Covid-19 has definitely changed how I am working and leading. Based on the text messages I’m receiving these unfamiliar waters are very challenging for us all.

In the midst of these challenging times I am trying to figure out:

  • How to lead a remote team for the first time?
  • How to serve our clients?

So how do you lead when life throws you a curveball?

I returned to my core operating principles or what Patrick Lencioni calls “Strategic Anchors.” I am discovering they are very helpful in leading in these uncharted waters.

Listen First

I thought I knew what this week would look like until the email said we were to all work from home…for at least the next few weeks. No problem, might even be better. I can get so much done.

Wait…sorry, just a minute my 17-month-old granddaughter wants to play on my computer and just grabbed my phone as she headed for the door. She is too adorable.

Now what was I talking about? Oh yes, new reality and new distractions? If you are facing new challenges, how about your team, your clients?

Your first step is to discover the real problems that need solving before you take action. Don’t assume you know. So how can you discover your staff or client’s present challenges and what you can do to help them to overcome those challenges?  You can ask them! And then LISTEN!

Listening first is a game-changer.  I can’t tell you how many times I have proceeded without listening – only to discover my assumptions about what people needed were wrong.

Ken Blanchard shares, “When I ask people to talk about the best boss they ever had, they always mention one quality:  Listening!”

Here are some questions you might ask: (and then of course listen)

  • Start with asking:  How are you and your family navigating this new reality?
  • What are your greatest challenges?
  • What’s working for you?

Better Together

Gary B. Cohen asks, “Would you rather be asked for your input or told what to do?”

Someone once said, “Involvement breeds commitment!”

No matter what the challenge or opportunity that is before you, why would you not want to ask everyone on your team:  What might we do?

I’m constantly reminded that my ideas can improve with the help of others. Even if I feel my latest one is gold. This week was no exception. I was getting message after message asking if I can help our leaders learn how to effectively train people online with virtual classrooms as the coronavirus caused in-person cancellations. I worked hard on the outline and the content. Ran it by a colleague and he loved it. Boom, done. Just for good measure, I connected with another colleague and she had several suggestions. After I got passed my hurt ego I realized again how much better this could be. A call followed. More changes and early this morning we had produced a much-improved training.

I believe some of the most creative and invaluable ideas will emerge from the challenges we are facing. They will be discovered and implemented well when we work together even if we are physically apart.

It’s easy to collaborate when everyone is a few feet outside your office door, but now what?

  • What might collaboration as a team look like virtually?
  • Who else could you connect with outside your team that could help?

Adaptive Process

Listening is good and working together is essential but there is more. I began using the new online training we had developed and the predictable happened. Not all the material hit the mark as I taught virtually online.

My coach shares a “Continuous Improvement Process” that we have found to be very effective:

  • Do it
  • Evaluate it by asking for input
  • Improve it by asking for input
  • Do it again
  • Evaluate it by asking for input
  • Improve it by asking for input
  • Do it again & continue the process

The “Adaptive Process” never goes out of season. But when launching something brand new – like working remotely as a team or launching a new effort to serve staff and clients, you may need to use the “Continuous Improvement Process” much more frequently.

Another set of questions that you might find helpful are:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What do we need to change?

So with this curve-ball, how are you creatively leading during this time?  Your ideas can be extremely helpful to others. We’d love to hear them!  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below:

Note from Bob:  My friend Neal’s 3 Core Operating Principles:  1) Listen First  2) Better Together  3) Adaptive Process will not only help you lead in a crisis – these 3 will help you Lead Everywhere All the Time!

Neal Black


Neal Black is an energetic communicator who loves challenging people to go beyond their comfort zone and sparking  “Aha moments” so leaders and teams get unstuck. He is currently the Associate Director of Leadership Development with Power to Change, training a staff of over 400.


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