By Nathan Stooke
CEO of Wisper ISP
COVID-19 has created a ‘new normal’ for all of us. Even though our day-to-day routines may have changed, strong leadership is more important than ever to guide your team through this transition. Leadership isn’t something you’re born into, it’s something you chose to do every day. And with new information coming all the time, we have to be ready and willing to adapt our leadership style and decision making.
When I started Wisper in 2003, we had no office, no employees, no revenue, and no towers. We were ahead of the times. We knew there would be a demand for fixed wireless, we just had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. By 2007 we had grown to 110 employees, we had an office, and we were still growing.
As we grew our business, I realized that people were relying on me to make great decisions. As the CEO, people depended on me to feed their families, pay their mortgages, and to continue proving this job security for them. I realized I wanted to be an effective leader who deserved my position, not just because I owned the company.
Leadership is hard. A good leader knows what kind of leader is needed and when. A good leader is also often unappreciated. It’s easy for someone to look at a situation and say how they would have handled it if they were in charge, but in execution it’s not that simple when your decisions make a difference. It’s easy to talk about what makes a good leader, but it’s hard to truly define good leadership.
In this social distancing, where we aren’t around our team as much as we might have been, it might seem like there’s less opportunities to be a leader, but I would argue that there’s more. You just have to be more intentional with leadership choices.
How do we define leadership? A number of words come up when you search for leadership styles, some positive ones and some that I’m so sure about. I would say the number one thing that really defines leadership is choice.
Leadership is a choice you make regularly. You have the opportunity to be a leader everyday, but you have to choose to be that leader. Every day you choose how you are going to lead and how you are going to interact with your team.
It’s not just the big decisions, either. Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. As a leader, what happens behind closed office doors is just as important as what happens in the conference room and even the lunch room.
While driving around with my kids in the car, someone on the interstate cut me off. My son asked me if I was going to call him names because of his driving. I realized that yes, I could do that in front of my children, or I could use this moment to teach them.
It doesn’t matter that he cut me off, because nothing actually came of it. We didn’t crash, there were no injuries, not even really an inconvenience.
We talked about how he might be in a hurry to get to the hospital to see a loved one, or maybe he didn’t even know what had just happened. Me being upset about it doesn’t change the outcome of the situation, but it would affect my day and possibly my kids’ day if I let it upset me.
It was just a small thing, but I chose to take the time to explain my response. Making choices in these everyday situations makes it easier to make big decisions in the long run. It takes years to build respect, but seconds lose it.
With social media these days, any bad decisions will get out. Those decisions will change how and if people choose to follow you. Sometimes that means going against the grain, and that can be a hard choice.
If I had listened to people back in the beginning of Wisper, it would never have happened. Being willing to go in the opposite direction at the right time is very important in leadership.
How do we lead in this ‘new normal’ of COVID-19? I think it will have a lot to do with decisiveness, and being able to make decisions quickly and effectively. Earlier this year, we had to make quick decisions on whether to cancel annual events and conferences, or wait it out and see how things progressed.
At Wisper, we had to change how we operated in our office environment and working from home, but also with our customers and service calls. I’ve had to personally reevaluate my leadership style to adjust for COVID-19. I usually like to plant seeds of change with the team, and help them grow and mature those seeds. But after several COVID-19 meetings, I realized I needed to take charge more than I usually would.
I firmly believe that people can change, even if it’s not a permanent change. Information is changing rapidly. Nobody has all the information or time they need to make decisions right now. It’s ok to change your decisions, as long you know you’re making the best choices that you can in that moment.
We’re all adjusting to this new normal. As a leader, your team will be looking at you to set the tone moving forward.We need strong leaders right now. We need people to step up and we don’t have a lot of time to prepare for it.
We might want weeks to plan and discuss, but we need to make those choices in a few hours. And if you aren’t happy with the outcome, learn from those mistakes to improve next time.
We’re all striving to do the best we can as leaders right now, so focus on your decisions, choose leadership every day, and be ready to adjust on the fly.
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