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Leading out of Adversity

We will come out on the other side of the Coronavirus outbreak.

We will slowly move back to center - or whatever our new center will be.

Next week I will discuss what service will look like coming out of this outbreak - you won't want to miss it. I have read many articles about this concept over the past week and many show a disconnect from customers.

I have been talking to leaders and customers in restaurants, retail, hotels, healthcare, and higher education, and I can tell you that some customer service experts are only touching the surface. We will dig deeper next week.

As we all adjust to working from home, social distancing, and the caution we have all come to expect, we must understand what that means for those we lead and those we serve - and adapt quickly to care for them.

I have watched a number of leaders over this outbreak take quick, decisive action and also be available to speak to their constituents, customers, and the public regularly.

This is not about their policy or politics as much as the way they communicated in an authentic way.

Remember that you don't have to agree with someone to learn from them.

Some I think have done a remarkable job are New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, restaurateur Tom Colicchio, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, and Vice President Mike Pence. They all had some similar characteristics with regard to how they communicated.

They Have Been Transparent and Direct

The best leaders have answered questions candidly and respectfully. Sure there have been the occasional flare ups, but when you are leading in a crisis there is no room for ambiguity. When you lead through a crisis you must be direct and share everything you can as quickly as possible. In the absence of information, your teams will fill the vacuum with rumors and speculation - and that rarely advances the mission. This is why the daily briefings from the President and many governors have become appointment viewing.

They Have Been Reasonably Optimistic

I hate the term cautiously optimistic. I think that sounds like you want to be positive but can't bring yourself to abandon negativity. You can certainly set a tone of optimism while being reasonable. You can't just hope for the best and assume it will all work out - but you can't dwell on the negative either. When leaders have struck a cord of honestly and optimism, both the populous and the stock market responded favorably. The best leaders are never foolishly hopeful but also know the aspirational power of setting a bold, positive agenda.

They Have an Appropriate Sense of Humor

You can't be "Slappy the Clown" during a crisis, but there is a place for humor. I think this is the toughest balancing act, and I err on the side of taking a more serious tone during tough times. But that doesn't mean work has to be a soul-sucking slog through darkness everyday. You may not start every meeting with a knock knock joke, but you can smile and occasionally look for a place to drop in an appropriate piece of humor. I think Governor Cuomo does this very well. I have seen some swings and misses from him as well, so it is not an exact science. Know your audience and carefully pick your moments for a dose of levity.

They are Empathetic and Calming

Governor Beshear has become a great example of calming and empathetic leadership during this troubling time. He has shown genuine emotion, shared tips for applying for social services, and expressed genuine gratitude to the people of his state for their sacrifices. Great leaders find a way to see the point of view of those they lead, prioritize their experiences, and communicate honestly without creating panic. Also if you want a good laugh, check out the memes of what other states are willing to offer for Beshear. One Twitter user from Florida offered Universal Studios, all the beaches, Spring Training, stone crabs, Disney, and 3 NFL teams. They are fairly imaginative and worth a google.

It's important to note that none of the leaders I mentioned are perfect. There is really no such thing, but they have some fantastic qualities from which we can all learn.

The vision you set as a leader will help keep your team and your customers calm during times of adversity and challenge - and that is key to business success.



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A well engaged team that feels appreciated and informed is well positioned to keep customers at the center of everything they do - even in less than favorable times.


1. Keep an optimistic, honest, and timely communication channel open with your teams and your customers

2. Adapt your service and communication style to the current state and find ways to serve your Guests, keep them safe, and serve their current needs. Solving problems is still your primary concern (and that includes safety).

3. Check in with your team regularly as you balance the need to inspire and comfort them with the urgency for ongoing performance and execution.

Tony Tony Johnson, CCXP Customer Experience (CX) Leader | Author | Speaker | Consultant Check out Tony’s FREE Resources and Training Tools: Web: YouTube: Twitter:

Check out Tony’s book:TOGETHER WE SERVE Buy it now on Amazon


Tony Johnson is an international speaker and author on the topics of customer service, leadership, and performance. Tony speaks to thousands annually and has also been featured on ABC News. He is available for custom keynotes, leadership workshops, and employee service training.


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