How to achieve victory in the face of a pandemic

By Joseph Luzinski

Regardless of when and how the federal government comes to the aid of businesses and households, now is the time for company owners and managers to lead. They need show they their customers, employees and community who they are.

When times are good, it’s easy to show confidence and achieve success. Now, the qualities that made you a successful businessperson or professional should be applied to giving the people around you the confidence that we will get through this crisis.

Joseph J. Luzinski is senior managing director of the South Florida office of Development Specialists Inc., a provider of management consulting, financial advisory and business restructuring services

We have recovered from other financial and health crises: the 1987 stock market crash; the 2000 dotcom bust; SARS in 2003; the real estate collapse in 2008; and Ebola in 2014. People lost their loved ones, their businesses, their jobs, their homes. But each time, we as a nation came back.

Now is not the time to panic. Stockpiling toilet paper helps no one. When crowds run scared, it’s up to leaders to reassure others that difficult times can be managed and ended. If you’re a business owner or manager, you’re a leader. It’s up to you to not just project but demonstrate confidence.

That means being honest and open. Do not sugar-coat information. Don’t spread conspiracy theories. Don’t understate the dangers to individual health or financial well-being.

If you’re sick, get tested, self-isolate and warn others you were in contact with. But stay in contact, just as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has done daily by posting online videos. While physically out of touch, he has remained close to residents.

Your business is probably experiencing difficult financial times. Don’t go it alone. Ask your advisors for guidance. As experts and mentors, they will have a clearer view of your situation and can offer solutions that you may not have considered. How clever are those distilleries that have pivoted their alcohol production from serving bars and restaurants to making hand sanitizer?

Walk your advisors through a worst-case scenario. What needs are most critical? What non-essential purchases can be postponed to conserve cash? What are the most difficult decisions to be made and how should they be handled?

For professional services firms like mine, operations can continue with minimal interruption. Many employees may have already had experience working from home. Business can go on as usual one could hope for a while as workers stay safer.

For other companies, especially those in hospitality and retail, the challenges are much greater. Restaurants, bars and stores have seen in-person business plunge to nothing. They didn’t have time to prepare, as we in South Florida know how to do when hurricane season arrives.

Leaders will have to make difficult decisions to make, starting with staffing. How many people can be kept on payroll and for how long? Can the business afford to lose its key employees now and recover later when life returns to normal?

And then there are financing issues. A leader will face them head-on, holding frank conversations with vendors about deferring payments and bankers about modifying loans. Not everyone will say yes, but for those who have maintained good relations with their creditors over the years, the odds will be much better.

The message to those business partners should be shared with employees and the community: Express optimism and realism and the same time. A plan brings hope—and trust.

Reiterate and demonstrate your commitment as a leader and people will follow. They will embrace an upbeat, realistic message tempered by realism when it’s followed by action. Assist the elderly and families in need. Support local businesses and contribute to nonprofit organizations that help others in time of crisis.

In his inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the nation, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

That was followed by the words that every leader should heed: “In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Show that type of leadership, and we will achieve our 21st century victory.

Joseph J. Luzinski is senior managing director of the South Florida office of Development Specialists Inc., a provider of management consulting, financial advisory and business restructuring services. He can be reached at [email protected].

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