Home Thinking Aloud Leading People In A Crisis – Yes, It Will Be Different

Leading People In A Crisis – Yes, It Will Be Different


by Wayne Embree, EVP of Venture Acceleration & Investments for Rev1 Ventures

While there are plenty of challenges and opportunities that present themselves within the idea of launching a business during a recession, the only thing for certain right now is uncertainty itself.

We can’t predict what a post-COVID-19 world will look like, but there are a few things that entrepreneurs should expect for their businesses now and once we’re all on the other side of this; things will be different across so many areas of your organization.

Your culture has changed.

Not maybe, not might, has. COVID has introduced the most challenging elements to any organization and the team members’ lives: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  Known as FUD, these highly charged emotional states often conflict with what individuals see with their own eyes and fundamentally know in their rational minds.  We are all affected by something we cannot see and cannot control. It’s imperative that company leaders provide calm guidance. This doesn’t mean you need to know all the answers.  You can’t; not even the experts or political leaders necessarily agree on what’s right, let alone what should happen next. But it is important that your team see that there is a thoughtful, measured approach to decisions that affect them and those around them. Some team members may be personally and emotionally devastated by COVID. They, or family or friends, may have contracted the virus; or they may be caught up in how COVID is affecting the world.

Your current and future employees have changed.

Negative associations with uncertainty present a very real challenge for startups, which as a matter of course rely on  individuals who are especially well-suited for tolerating perceived, acceptable risks, and uncertainty. Mix fear and doubt into the  uncertainty that is always present in a startup, and the totality can become extremely negative and possibly irreversibly damaging to individuals that  a startup would employ.  

How to address this as a leader? Like most things in small companies, head on. Openly. Honestly. Repeatedly. You will find that some on your team can’t adjust. Their tolerance levels for risk and uncertainty have been reset; quite possibly forever.  Some may need to find a different place to work where they perceive less risk to themselves and their families. It may suit others to work in a different part of the business if that is a feasible option ), or work in a different way.  Working from home more frequently may smooth their transition. Regardless, it’s imperative that you and your managers carefully monitor your teammates for signs of anxiety and depression and encourage everyone to seek help.

The other side of this coin, however, is opportunity. There are most certainly individuals watching this crisis unfold who do not want to wait any longer to fulfill a dream to work in a startup or to launch a company themselves. These people are emboldened by crises and will bring strength and stability to your organization as the economy recovers, as well as fresh eyes with which to see your customers, product, and market.

Your customer has changed.

Your customers are going through very similar issues as your business. Some have no idea what to do; others will try anything once they can get back to business. Take time to really understand what your customers need. This is truer now more than ever, because they may not know. To accomplish this with empathy and intellectual honesty, your team must be aligned on your company’s “why and how” of serving  your customers and market.

If your business has sufficient resources or support to act during this part of the market cycle, seize every bit of momentum possible. Those customers and the market share they represent will increase the likelihood your business survives. However, seeking sales requires a united effort from your management team and employees. Some may find it offensive to seek out opportunities and competitive advantages when so many are down and suffering. As long as such tactics are employed ethically and in keeping with a business’ core values, there is no shame in being aggressive during these times to provide solutions to potential customers and thereby sustaining your enterprise.

Entrepreneurs pride themselves on being decisive and leading from the front. This is a time that requires leaders to bring their team together, really understand each person’s concerns, needs and hopes, and then lead from within.


Wayne Embree, EVP of Venture Acceleration & Investments for Rev1 Ventures, the startup studio that combines capital and strategic services to help startups scale and corporates innovate.


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