How to be an effective leader during COVID-19 (PART 1)

May 25, 2020

"The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity … out of discord, harmony … and out of difficulty, opportunity."

-Albert Einstein

If you own or manage a business right now, you’re probably doing it from home—a place you may have NEVER thought to run a business from.

Or if you’re like me, you’ve been running a business from home for decades.

Either way, with COVID throwing a huge wrench in everyone’s lives, you may be struggling to remain nimble and flexible while still being a strong and focused leader for your team … even if your team is just YOU.

So if you weren’t stressed out enough with stay at home orders and the clutter of your personal life, I’m sure you are now that you’re juggling work AND home from the same space with nowhere to go to get away from either.

I always remember what I learned from one of my favorite teachers at college: What’s most personal is most universal.

I can’t tell you how often I use that when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Because if I’m feeling this way, chances are I’m not alone … even if I’m the only person in the room.

So when leading your team(s), it’s helpful to remember that they are probably just as uncertain and stressed out as you are AND they also have less control over the direction they’re heading in … so maybe even a bit MORE stressed than you!

Heavy is the head that wears the crown :)

With everyone looking to you for solutions, you need to be transparent especially when you are not sure about which choice or direction you all should be heading towards.

I find it helpful to tell my team when I don’t know what we should do and ask for their advice and support.

I’ll still be the person making that final decision, but I don’t need to pretend to have all the answers, particularly at a time when no one seems to have any answers.

So expecting things to NOT be smooth will give everyone some breathing room.

Which doesn’t mean accepting sub-par work.

It just means that you aren’t demanding perfection at a time when perfection seems even harder to pull off.

Frankly, I think perfection is the wrong goal—here we’re always aiming for excellent. That is almost always achievable.

But perfection is definitely in the eye of the beholder so rife with opportunities for disappointment … so let’s try to avoid that since there’s already enough disappointment floating around!

NOTE: This is part 1 of this article—part 2 will be published next week.


I didn’t make it up and it makes perfect sense to me.

If you haven’t read Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, check it out.

You need strong workers doing things they are both really good at and love to do … for the most part. Noone is likely to love every part of their job but they should be well suited to the tasks and eager to complete them.

If they are miserable or underperforming, maybe you can rearrange the bus and find a better seat for them.

And sometimes you have to pull the bus over and let them off … with love.

I am just wrapping up a 4-month internal reorganization for a multi-7 figure non-profit in Washington, DC.

When we started the project, there wasn’t much of a seating chart and people were hopping all over the bus … if they weren’t hanging out in the back, biding their time and hoping no one would notice that they were just along for the ride.

We did a deep audit, redesigned the organizational chart and defined KPIs for every role.

Now they are doing the work of shifting people around and letting a few of them go so that the bus can get back on the road.

Their work was impressive even when inefficient and bloated—in this new configuration, they should be unstoppable in serving their community AND creating even greater impact than they did before we started working.

So, if you’re willing to take an honest look at who’s doing what and when, you will both show you’re a smart and thoughtful and AWARE leader, you’ll also ensure that the business will stay on course and stay alive if not grow right now.

And as is the case with every economic crisis, there are crazy opportunities for growth if you’re flexible and adaptable.

You may even need to bring on new staff.

And while anyone CAN work from home with the right tools, some are not as productive as others when working without an external structure in place. 

Here at AMI (Andrew Mellen, Inc.), I’ve learned (the hard way) that I need intrapreneurs working with me.

I’m not a great manager—and I know that about myself.

I’m a decent cheerleader as long as you do your work.

But as aggressive as I can be advocating for clients, I have sucked at confrontation in my own business.

I let people who are not delivering hang out way too long hoping that they will somehow self-motivate to get back into the game and deliver the goods.

This has seldom … probably NEVER panned out like I wanted it to.

I have always had to let these people go and while they may have appreciated getting paid for longer than they deserved, the business (and I) suffered.

So now, I only bring people onto the team who are pro-actively looking for ways to drive revenue and increase our impact.

You can’t hang out and just do the lowest common denominator of a task and consider that “good enough” because it isn’t.

I also brought on an integrator in the COO role … because like I said above, I’m not a great manager.

If you don’t know that term, check out Gino Wickman’s book Rocket Fuel.

What I’m great at is making things up and persuading people to change their behavior to line up with their values.

And I’m great at solving puzzles and problems—and finding the quickest path to a goal.

It’s good to know what you’re good at.

My COO is an EXCELLENT manager. He digs it AND he’s really good at it. Yay!

He can make sure the trains run on time and I can make up fun and interesting places where we can point the train.

It only took me 23 years to get here.

So, if you’re lucky enough to get to hire people to join YOUR team, learn from my mistakes.

Pay attention during the interview. 

If they are constantly apologizing for and distracted by the background noise before they are even hired, you can bet that an “average” day at home is an even bigger chaotic dance and likely to keep them in “squirrel" mode—fun in an animated movie—horrible for your bottom line.

Likewise, are they built to take ownership over their role or are they always going to be waiting to be told what to do?

If you have to babysit them after they’re onboarded, you will never get YOUR work done. But you’ll definitely have TWO people doing the employees job. That’s bad math.

Listen to how they talk, the words they use, how they talk about themselves, about others and how they run their lives away from work.

Another really smart person once said, “How you do anything is how you do everything”.

So just like dating, if you remember dating, take people at their word. If they say something, don’t finesse it for them and fool yourself into thinking they really mean something else. 

Chances are they are showing you EXACTLY who they are. Believe them.

And make your choices accordingly.


When you help your team develop their skills you automatically win.

And you don’t need to make winning be your focus.

As your employees (and contractors) get better at what they do BECAUSE of the opportunities you gave them, you are building loyalty … in anyone besides a sociopath. And if you have one of those on your team, see the section above.

People need to feel respected and accomplished.

And people are your biggest asset so investing in them means you’ll reap the dividends as long as they continue working with/for you.

I get that you probably also get this AND still in the moment, as a trainer, I’ve seen naturally giving and generous managers and meeting planners behave insanely.

Where they have been running around frantically trying to “ensure” success.

Did people pay attention?

Were they engaged?

Did they participate?

In 1-2 weeks after the training, are they still employing 1-3 things they learned at the training?

Then the training was a success.

No amount of positive evaluations proves impact and improvement.

Everyone could have loved the trainer and still gone right back to their old bad habits the next day.

So don’t make yourself crazy OR your team crazy OR your trainer crazy trying to control the outcome of the training.

My goal as a trainer is to put 1-3 immediately actionable tips, tools or hacks into every person’s hands and make sure they understand how to use them as soon as they get out of the training … if not DURING the training.

If that seems like a low return, consider that by implementing just one tip from a training I offered, one client has grown their business by 30% every month for over 12 consecutive months.

A million new tips that are NEVER implemented are useless.

Actually worse than useless … now there’s more junk and clutter in your employee’s head that is using up brain power and keeping them from being their old unproductive selves.

So 1-3 strategic tips that literally change how everyone on the team works are the kinds of game changing training you want.

Certainly now that we’re all working virtually, it’s even easier to coach participants to make those changes in real time since now they are in front of their devices AND in their workspaces WHILE the training is happening!

Talk about immediate feedback and impact.

We can tell right away if someone is struggling to get something or implements it instantly.

So even though I miss being in a live room with people, I really appreciate knowing that they are implementing the changes WHILE we’re together. Boom!

So if you’ve got to create and implement new processes or procedures, figure out (with the help of your trainer) what will create the biggest impact for the employee AND by extension the company.

If you need everyone to meet deadlines faster and more thoroughly, then some time management training that is focused on results and not learning another system will definitely improve your overall numbers.

AND your employees will benefit at home AND at work–—obviously since they are probably the same place.

So perhaps more accurately, they will benefit in their personal AND professional lives which makes them a better worker, partner, parent, child, neighbor and citizen.

That’s a great return on your investment—woo hoo!

And that’s just for business as usual.

Add in COVID-19 and you’re likely ALSO being called to assist in several new areas of work.

How do you help with employee needs and concerns, coronavirus containment, and communicating newly created policies and preventative measures related to COVID-19?

The days of looking over someone's shoulder in order to learn what they know and what they’re doing are over. 

And while many people are currently willing to take a pay cut just to stay afloat, the old saying, "You get what you pay for" still rings true in the virtual working world, both for your employees and any outside trainers you bring in.

No one needs another training right now that doesn’t add something substantial to the business.

If you thought you were busy before, navigating COVID has only made you busier AND probably a bit frazzled and overwhelmed.

So choose your trainings with these things in mind:

1) Every training should help reduce your team’s stress, not add to it

2) Learning a new system takes time—is there a simpler way to do what you need to do with the skills and tools you already have, just used more efficiently?

3) Can an external trainer or coach help us solve a new or old problem that we’ve been unsuccessful at solving internally?

4) Is there something we can learn WHILE ALSO keeping current and compliant? If you’re going to have to train, can you get a two-fer out of the deal?

5) How specifically can this training help my employees work better and live better?

If you can focus on those questions when choosing your next training, your employees will experience the benefits fast and so will the company.


Every team needs to know what to expect—virtual or not, employees and supervisors alike.

They need unification and structure. 

They need to understand what is expected of them and when, along with easy to use and access tools for accountability.

And just enough regularly scheduled meetings to not get lost but not waste time. For more tips on effective meetings, see this article here

In order for your team to meet your (and the business’s) expectations, they need clear communication AND systems.

So, define your systems—even if you think you don’t have any.

They do exist and they are the skeletal structure of your business.

Everything from how you answer emails to how to deliver services, build machines or write code.

Not only do you need to make sure that both the why and how to do something is  clearly understood by everyone who is taking on a task—you’ll also want to make sure that the system is followed by all employees the same way.  

If you don’t have an OPS manual, create one.

This has made the running of our business MUCH MORE effective and efficient.

And if you DO have one, use it.

It’s not a paperweight or decorative object.

If you’ve updated policies and procedures during COVID, update your SOP’s and guidelines for your team.  

Then make sure everyone sets aside time to review and adopt these new ways of doing things.

Vagueness never gets you closer to a goal—and misinterpretations, miscommunications and slip ups are bound to happen as a result of not being precise.

Firmly and with love point out that these new processes are not put in place as a suggestion and must be adopted to avoid unneeded stress on the entire team.

And lastly, be open to discussing challenges and even pushback—as long as it’s not mutiny.

Crappy attitudes to dramatic shifts in work deliverables and expectations have no place in your company.

Sure, people can be upset and should have a forum for expressing it.

But work slowdowns, pouty, whiny responses to requests, and other counterproductive behavior only grinds morale down and increases everyone’s stress.

As a leader, your job is to either get any disgruntled workers back on track or politely and directly exit them from the team.

Given that working remotely may very well be your company’s new way of working together, you need everyone pulling in the same direction with enthusiasm and a commitment to both their individual and the business’s success.

We’ll pick the rest of the article up next week.In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss how we here at AMI can train your team, please schedule a quick and free strategy call with Kevin Smith here.

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!