COVID-19 – The Tsunami that Hit Corporate Leadership

by Karen Pierce, Founder, TKPierce Limited

First comes the ground-shaking tremors. Then, the aftershocks.

In Fukushima, it was the shifting of the tectonic plates, a tsunami, and then a nuclear meltdown. In America right now, and globally, it’s COVID-19.

But the result is the same. Lives lost. Businesses vanquished. Cities turned into ghost towns.

Having witnessed the earthquake that brought Japan to its knees on March 11, 2011 — living in the midst of its destruction — I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to COVID-19.

Now, while buildings might not have shaken on their foundations across the United States, the economy, personal safety and job security are all deeply unstable.

And, just like in the aftermath of Fukushima, in America reliable information has been scarce and panic has been building as a lack of transparency of government and business leaders created a distrust that will be difficult to rebuild.

It seemed COVID-19 did not just test our healthcare system and pandemic readiness, but our leadership as well — which found itself unprepared and failing at all levels.

Distrust and fear are high.

Successfully returning to prosperity is going to require extraordinary leadership that is anything but the stereotypical, top-down, all-knowing stoic icon.

Lockdown exposed corporate America’s soft underbelly and uncovered flaws, and so rebuilding trust within our ranks should and must be our main priority.

If anything is to be learned from Japan, it’s that many leaders acted as though business was “back to normal.”

That head-in-the-sand approach led only to fearful, anxious, unproductive and unresponsive employees and a workplace teetering on the brink of further collapse; with the country far from healing, some 5,229 aftershocks decimated buildings and weakened infrastructure.

Globally, COVID-19 is no different.

As businesses once again open their doors, fears of a second coronavirus wave abound, but it is not building foundations that are weakened but the hearts and minds of “men.”

Every sniffle, cough or sneeze in the new normal becomes a potential aftershock.

Leaders and their teams have been exposed to a whole new world …

Retail and restaurants moved quickly, reverting to a 1960s drive-in model, complete with curbside carhop service.

Late-night talk shows broadcast from home and manufacturing giants pivoted production from cars to ventilators.

Leaders at all levels scrambled to manage and support remote teams while they, too, adapted to a new and ever-changing environment.

Most did not do a good job — it wasn’t in their “job description” and there certainly wasn’t any training to prepare them for it.

But for all our mistakes going in, the key to recovery is to embrace thoughtful leadership and to learn from history while innovating and envisioning a new leadership landscape.

Care for the Person, Speak to the Concern

Acting as though everything is OK will foster fear and anxiety within the workplace.

Rather, company safeguards need to be shared, precautions put in place, and full disclosure made of the process should a second wave of COVID-19 hit.

Coming out of a crisis, people have conflicting emotions and are likely to be distracted, wary and nervous.

Their anxiety will be a mixture of the competing need to be back to work, the concern for their job and the health of the company, and the risk of being in closer spaces than they have been for a long time.

Leadership messaging will need to be as inspirational as it is compassionate.

  • Before anyone settles into work, take a moment to talk about your employees’ concerns and fears.
  • Tell them about the precautions taken and what they should do if they or their co-worker feel sick.
  • Be proactive and provide your staff masks to make working in closer conditions again more comfortable. If you don’t have a mask source in-house, check this reliable source (

Recognize Your Superheroes

Heroes always emerge in times of crisis and battle.

Make it your business to find out who stepped up and shone through the adversity at every level of your company. Then find a way to reward them — handsomely.

Far from a typical work-from-home situation, many had children to school and spouses to compete with for time and resources yet maintained their productivity. Some even took on additional responsibilities.

These are your “A” players.

You can’t afford to lose them and if you don’t show them how much you value their heroic effort, they will find a company that will.

This is also a time to sort the rest. Create a talent strategy and make the hard decisions now.

Establish a Work-Life Integration Culture

The shelter-at-home policy has schooled the American economy on a new work style and the conditions under which they are most productive.

After successfully working from home under the most trying conditions, expect that many staff may want to continue working remotely when children return to school and daycares open, and pocket the time and money saved and productivity gained telecommuting.

Likewise, those who took a cutback in hours or were furloughed may find that part-time work or even not returning to work is a better choice for their families.

And it won’t be just women who make this decision.

Provide options for full-time work-from-home, part-time and a combination of work-from-home/in-office positions.

Focus on the benefits and flexibility you can offer while providing clear, workable expectations.

It is no longer a matter of if you offer this option to your employees.

COVID-19 has changed the way the world does business.

The traditional 8-to-5 workday micromanagement of employees and outdated productivity measures and benchmarks simply will not cut it.

Leaders will need to be open to new ways to get the job done while integrating life with work; those who don’t risk a third aftershock: watching their best talent walk out the front door.

Ready to embrace the new leadership landscape and lead a highly productive team post-COVID-19? A free resource is available to you. Grab my free 27-Point Leadership Checklist: How to Inspire, Motivate & Unify Teams for Increased Productivity, Purpose & Profits (Post COVID-19) (

Karen Pierce is the founder of TKPierce Limited

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