An Open Letter to My Friends in Powerful Positions

March 20, 2020


My friend,

This is what living through history feels like, this shared experience of radical disruption.  And because your job comes with significant responsibility and authority, it’s your time to lead.  As we’ve talked about many times, leadership at scale is never easy, but it’s especially hard now because we have no direct experience from which to draw lessons.  We are all going to be making it up as we go for a little while.

My best advice for you: 

Reset expectations.  “The year is blown,” said every CEO of every big company.  Your company will be a true unicorn if you manage to keep previous commitments to your investors in this environment.  Better to start with a fresh sheet of paper.  But more than that, treat this as an opportunity to reset expectations about the financial engine that you operate.  Take a step back and consider a better balance between shareholder return and the benefits accrued to your employees who generate that return. There has been a lot of talk over the past year about purpose and profit—this is your chance to put purpose and people first.  

Think a few chess moves ahead. In the midst of the chaos and flood of decisions you’re dealing with, don’t forget that part of your role is to think about what happens next, on the backside of the pandemic.  I know it may sound impossible at the moment, but it is critical that you find some time and space outside the maelstrom of your job to reflect on the big picture and the long game.  What does your business, function or role look like during the pandemic and what are your aspirations for it afterwards?  It’s becoming clear that many businesses may not survive the year, but if you think yours will, you should be thinking ahead so your decisions today are made with some consideration of tomorrow.  

Anchor in empathy.  This is going to be an emotionally challenging time for everyone.  Provide an opportunity for the people you work with to share their emotions, to connect in our shared fear and hope.  Help your employees who can work from home do so successfully.  That requires more than technology—it requires patience, engagement, guidance, and encouragement.  Extend meaningful financial support to those that have been working with you, even if you can’t keep them fully employed. 

Be a good citizen.  Make sure you’re considering what’s good for the communities you operate in, keeping everyone’s safety in mind when making the many difficult choices that lie ahead.  Remember that the on-going success of your big business has been supported by a lot of small businesses.  Find ways to help them now, through loans, easing of payment terms, reduced prices.  

Your company and its reputation will be impacted by the choices you make during this crisis.  Bold action in service of the greater good will be seen and celebrated; selfishness won’t be forgotten.  Younger generations have made it clear that they have high expectations for the companies they do business with.  You can bet that the rest of us will join them on the backside of this pandemic.  

Good luck.  Let me know if the Nvolv gang can be of any help in the months ahead.  Because we’re not getting on airplanes to see clients, we have time on our hands.

I hope you, your family and your colleagues stay healthy and safe,



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