In the face of the coronavirus, the 2020 Forum theme, “The Big Stretch,” seems to be more relevant now than ever. Many of you in the Forum community have asked for advice. We tapped our fabulous Forum speakers for their expert insights on two questions:
1. What are you seeing today?
2. What is your #1 piece of advice for women in the Forum community?
See our speakers’ responses below.
What are you seeing today?
“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
In this time of crisis, it is critical for companies and leaders to maintain calm. But those that lead with empathy will separate themselves from the rest and reap the rewards when this crisis is resolved. Leaders that show empathy will build connection and trust. Sending the message that the team’s pain and fears are seen and heard, and that the leaders are committed to navigating the team through this difficult time, will leave you better positioned for the journey ahead.
What I have seen is that we are now realizing that our families are most important, that having the next Gucci bag is irrelevant since we are not out and about and if we go outside it is usually in gym clothes with a small wallet and our phone. We are also realizing that being home and working from home is not a bad thing at all. Technology is so much more valuable in times of crisis than we realized. But on the sad side I already know two friends who are in the hospital…This all became much more real to me.
Times of crisis often demonstrate essential truths about both companies and organizations as well as leaders and individuals. The executives I coach are both reacting to what they see their organizations doing as well as demonstrating who they are to the teams underneath them. It is easier to do the right thing when times are less hard, and it is hard to be your best self when you have anxiety for the life you have built and the people that you love. I’ve already been highly impressed (and sometimes shocked) with the positive values and character I have seen from some of my clients, and been disappointed and concerned with others. We are all being watched, and what we do will inevitably be remembered for both good and for ill.
Women business owners are still finding ways to thrive in this #newnormal as we are calling it in the Million Dollar Women community but only if they
– pivot (start offering new products and services online)
– plan (plan for a recession and protect their cash)
– problem solve (figure out the new problems their customers and clients have and how to solve them)
What I am seeing today is that people are busier than ever, solving problems they’ve not had to solve before and challenged by very new realities. It requires managing into ambiguity as never before and most are trying to solve for the little known.
I am seeing people on Wall St working from home and around the clock given the market behavior, striving to stay connected in new ways (Skype, Zoom, What’s App, cell phone, etc). Things are operating pretty well given all of this.
Those more junior may be feeling more isolated, and senior people should be reaching out and connecting with them.
From a career perspective, this can be the time to step up and be proactive. Roles have fewer boundaries, and people should be contributing where they see the need. Firms are not necessarily equipped and familiar with dealing with this type of crisis, and need people to take leadership and help steer.
I am seeing a much more human touch in how we are reaching out and connecting with our networks. My hope is that this trend lingers far longer than the coronavirus and self-isolating.
This is a disruption to our modern society that we have never witnessed before in such rapid fashion. It will forever change us. My sense is it leads to radical and profound change, much for the better and some for the worse.
What we are seeing is people and businesses being remarkably quick to be innovative and creative generating new ways of addressing problems and creating solutions. I am seeing the best in people, doing the right thing, companies supporting employees and clients putting health first. Markets will settle down – they always do – and pent up demand will be huge when we emerge from this.
High-level Wall Street woman
What I am seeing in these first few weeks of a “new normal” is a number of people being thoroughly overwhelmed in business and personal lives —- from adjusting to working remotely, to re-doing business plans, to determining how to tap into government assistance programs for business, to worrying about health of friends/family, to home-schooling children while trying to conduct business, to dealing with emotions around not being able to see family, parents/spouses in nursing homes — the list goes on and on. I have been advising a couple of women who are starting new businesses — one of them continues to forge full-steam ahead, pursuing her passion and dream – it is inspiring to see. Perhaps as we adjust better physically and emotionally to our new routines in the next months, we all will be able to take some time to absorb how the world has changed not just in the short-term, but fundamentally in a number of ways — and think about what that means for us, our careers and family.
Women are reprioritizing and refocusing on “what really matters”: the health, safety and security of themselves, their families and the communities where they live. Women are securing resources, providing leadership, sharing advice and connecting “virtually” to advocate for mental, emotional, physical, social and financial resources.
Specifically, in working with women business owners who have annual revenues of $1-$20 million, I’m seeing strong collaboration, negotiation and advocacy skills to preserve the paychecks of employees and provide services for customers while complying with the orders to close “non-essential businesses” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Susan Sobbott, Board Member, WEX Inc.; Former President, Global Commercial Services, American Express
I am seeing the power of leadership to make change in very short timespans. Some based on values and some based on practicalities. But nonetheless bold moves to take action to make needed change to address the needs of employees, customers, and communities.
…We practiced a lot for these first zoom meetings…It is important to pay attention to how to run effective virtual meetings. Make sure that you have cameras on. This humanizes the meetings. And I find I am forced to put on some makeup before my first zoom call of each day. My new motto is “If it is zoom, you gotta groom”. And yes, I made that up as far as I know!
We see 3 approaches: The first is to retreat into fear and paralysis. The second is work extra hard trying to keep “control”. The third is to be guided by this essential question: “What is needed right now?”
In many ways, this crisis is bringing out the best in our communities. I am blown away by the generosity and bravery of our front-line heroes, by the communities of people coming together to encourage one another in ways big & small, and by the countless volunteers organizing food and medical supply drives. I see people being kinder and more grateful for the simple things that usually go unnoticed. I see more family dinners, home movie nights and Zoom calls with grandparents. The beauty in our humanity is shining a ray of light thru this terribly dark time, and I believe that beauty will continue long after this crisis ends.
What is your #1 piece of advice for women in the Forum community?
Susan Sobbott, Board Member, WEX Inc.; Former President, Global Commercial Services, American Express
Don’t let this crisis go by without finding your own clarity. Note what is important to you. What guides your decisions. What inspires you and what frightens you.
All rules and norms are bent in a time like this. Take advantage of an opening to be bold. Make suggestions, take actions, jump in and just do what you think is right. Leaders emerge in times of crisis and others fade into fear or caution. Use your voice and advocate for your customers, your teams, your community and most importantly, your values.
My #1 piece of advice is to be aware of blind spots and burnout both in ourselves and in the teams around us – from leadership on down. Never-before-seen or imagined problems are flowing in at an accelerating rate and demanding one urgent decision after another. No one person, no matter how dedicated, can process it all well. We need to rely on others, provide support to decision makers who may be reaching critical levels of stress and understand this is more likely to last longer than anticipated.
You are wearing all the hats you always wear but now, at the same time. Create some boundaries and sections to your day and do NOT neglect self-care – find 20 mins – nap, exercises, meditate, walk outside with proper distances. We maintain machines in this way, YOU are the machine now.
Advice in this stressful time is to stay in touch with your network and especially any advocates/mentors to hear different perspectives about this event vs. the financial crisis and what opportunities may come up as a result of this either in your company or other industries.
Think about the skills you have that can help you adapt psychologically and emotionally and use these to help you adapt to your new responsibilities at your current job or one you would like to reach for.
Lawton W. Fitt, Chairperson of the Board, The Progressive Corporation; Lead Independent Director, The Carlyle Group; Independent Director, Ciena Corporation and Micro Focus International PLC
This is a moment when great leaders shine. Be present, be kind, be flexible and communicate as much as you can. Create a positive vision of the future. Build upon the strengths and insights of your team.
Deborah Jackson, Founder and CEO, Plum Alley
My advice is to stick to your core- who you are, what you value and how you contribute to make the world better. This is a time when we are reminded how interconnected we are. We need one another to survive and thrive. We all have something to give and find what that is for you and give that today and everyday. The world needs us women to do that to heal and prosper.
My main piece of advice is to be empathetic. Each person is experiencing their own personal and professional circumstances which are not always fully known and appreciated. This is a very trying time – physically, mentally and financially and we haven’t lived through a global pandemic before. So be a little bit more thoughtful and kind and take the time to ask people how they are and whether they need any help. We will all hopefully get through this and be safe on the other side.
Jen Meister, Wellness and Lifestyle Coach
If you would like more information on Jennifer Meister, visit Jennifermeister.com and listen to her Sunday Share episodes on Instagram LIVE @Jennifer_Meister_ every Sunday at 12pm EST. This is where she will share more insight on Creating your Narrative during times of Uncertainty. firstname.lastname@example.org
My #1 piece of advice is to allow this time of change to be a time to look deeper into your values, integrity and personal growth. This is not a time to focus on what “we don’t have.” This is a perfect time to focus on “what we do have.”
My advice for women in the Forum is to “put on your oxygen mask first”… stealing a directive from the airline industry. This is an incredibly trying time emotionally and physically with elevated stress across both our personal and professional lives. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of devoting some time in your disrupted day and lives for self-care. You won’t effectively be able to take care of your family and business unless you are in a healthy state of mind. How we respond in these trying times can define us!
Take time while sheltered in place to engage in serious introspection about where you stand in your career journey — and what you want to do next as we rejoin a radically altered business world.
One of my favorite quotes is from Bill Gates that people often overestimate what can happen in 5 years and underestimate what can happen in 10 years. Do not underestimate what is happening now. I think we just compressed 5-10 years of innovation into one crisis. Think about how everything has changed and been upended. We instantly digitalized the world of business in ways that otherwise would have taken years. We just proved that people can work from home and think what that means for our workforce satisfaction and our climate. We have all seen how clean the air is and what life is like with less congestion. We are all figuring out how to live and do virtually everything online.
Stay alert now as everything is changing so quickly that it is hard to see. Take care of the young and old ones in this time. We have all learned how human we are and that we need human contact. We all need each other.
Control your calendar. Not the other way around. It’s up to you to differentiate between what’s important and what’s urgent, and to be selective! Be honest with yourself about what you can accomplish in a given day. It’s OK to put off things that are not important – in both your professional and personal life. Find a way to separate your work space from your living space – so you feel like you can “leave work” for a few hours. If all else fails, simply get up and go outside to stretch, do jumping jacks or to play freeze tag with the kids. The work will be there when you go back inside and you’ll be more focused and engaged for it.
I don’t think that women need different advice than men. While there are definitely areas where women are less accepted and respected the gains achieved so far are well deserved and well overdue. It is our loss as a society that we allow bias and stupidity to hold anyone down. My “advice” then would be to keep moving forward; overcome the hurdles others try to put in front of you and strive to live your life with no regrets and achieve all you want. I think that is true for all of us.
I have two here: Remain flexible on shifting priorities, sometimes by the hour, across both your personal and professional obligations. Tap into your resiliency and lessons learned from prior professional or personal challenges.
Use this time to dig deep within yourself and clarify what makes your life worth living. Protect your health, because your ability to align your thoughts and actions in the service of what is good depends on being here on this earth to do so. Remember that, while money matters, wealth is simply a form of energy that must be channeled constructively. As women in leadership, we have all overcome incredible obstacles in the course of our lives – and we have supported others along the way. That’s what we do, that’s who we are and that’s why we were put here.
Self-care. Now more than ever we need to find inner strength to cope, and help others cope, with all this turmoil in the world, and the best way to find this inner strength is to find time to prioritize yourself. After having spent almost 35 years on Wall Street where I experienced first-hand being sold, acquired, merged, NYC black outs, mis-carriage, birth of a child, divorce, re-marriage, 9-11, losing parents to cancer and dementia and the Financial Crisis, I realized that I never prioritized myself. Forget making myself #1 on the list, I wasn’t on the list at all! What I have learned in the last 5 years is that it wouldn’t have taken very much of my time to simply care for myself better. This ultimately would have made me a more resilient, mindful, empathetic and patient mother, wife, daughter, friend, manager, employee and whole human being.
From a core of staying true to yourself and your values, consider how you can use this time of change and turmoil to shape what will become the “new normal” in your organization. The system is “unfrozen” as William Bridges would say and the coming months will offer significant opportunities to alter mindsets, establish new ways of working, and drive success that would have been nearly unthinkable earlier this year. Specific to many of the women leaders I have coached (as well as the more empathetic men), don’t let the importance of ensuring that people feel physically and psychologically safe become a reticence or unwillingness to be bold in sharing your vision for how your organization can come out of this crisis even better than before. Show your people you are ready and able to say “follow me” and offer them some compelling hope for the future.
My #1 piece of advice is STAY POSITIVE. This is difficult for all. Obviously worse for some than others (those who have lost jobs, know people who are sick, etc.). But try to appreciate what you do have and take it one day at a time.
A second piece of advice? STAY CONNECTED. Make the extra effort to communicate with people, check in, text, talk, facetime, etc. It’s very important we maintain human contact and keep up our networks (both personal and business)!
In terms of advice – This too shall pass. For those of us who have gone through numerous crisis personal and financial that life is never a straight and easy path. We need to take important lessons from this in our personal, professional and human life and look to do things better. It is a wakeup call to how interconnected we all are and how a civil just society needs to take care of those less fortunate. We will come out of this and we will be stronger for it.
In my view, women have a critical sense of connection, which will sustain us through the worst isolation. The qualities for which they are most considered – the ability to multi-task (take care of their children’s homeschooling and their companies’ operations and employees) and creatively problem solve – are more critical than ever as well.
This crisis presents women in the Forum community with an opportunity for personal and leadership growth. Not only is it a chance to face new challenges and add new skills, it is a time to make connections and open our hearts and minds to new ideas and new journeys.
High-level Wall Street Woman
Take a few minutes for yourself by yourself, at least once a day, in the bathroom even if you have to, remind yourself this will pass as it came and that you got this.
With the world on pause, look around and make a list of all the things you’ve wanted to have time for but haven’t (i.e. books to read or the one you want to write, skills to learn or certification to complete) then get to it and start checking items off that list.