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Leadership in the time of COVID-19

Nate Canada • Mar 27, 2020

I think it’s reasonably safe to say that when I first started at DeveloperTown in 2014 I was not expecting the following two things to become a reality: that I’d last in a software development consulting firm with no software development knowledge and that I’d eventually write a blog post about leadership in the midst of a global pandemic.

Both are true at the moment. I’ve come quite a ways from being clueless about what an API was or in the dark about things such as pull requests. (Quite naturally, as a 16 year old boy stuck in a now 33 year old’s body, I assumed a PR had to do with a rather gaseous bodily function and my index finger.)

But here we are. Slightly more knowledgeable about software and spending most of my time indoors as our brave medical men and women, delivery drivers, teachers, grocery store clerks, and city employees are on the front lines. It’s a scary time. A time where I often wonder what should we be doing? Who is going to stand up and lead? How should they be doing it? And what about us that are not guaranteed a future? What about our jobs? How are we going to make it?

These questions are undoubtedly floating through your head and the head of your bosses, coworkers, and employees.

And if you find yourself in a place of leadership, now is the time to answer those questions.

One of the many reasons I’ve stuck around at DeveloperTown is the fact that we have strong leaders. Leaders who are trying to answer those questions. Leaders who I trust will do the right thing, not only for the business but for their employees as well.

But what does the right thing look like now? I have a few suggestions that come straight from the DT leadership playbook.

  1. As a leader, it’s more important than ever to communicate with honesty and empathy. People are going to create their own narratives if they don’t hear one from you. They may even create one if you share the truth over and over. But they deserve to know where the business stands and where you see it going. If you don’t know, that's okay too. Tell them what you do know. No sugar coating, no false hope, no unneeded dread.
  2. The best way to reduce anxiety is to start thinking about what your organization can do for others. How are your clients feeling at this time? Serve them with grace and care. Demonstrate this to your team. Vocalize it over and over. There’s never been a better time to revisit your mission statement and remind yourself and your team that now is the time to serve others. It’s really hard to worry about yourself while you’re helping someone else.
  3. Samuel Johnson was quoted as saying, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” I happen to agree with him. Set up recurring touchpoints with your team to celebrate their wins and check in. Be available. A great example of this would be a now weekly virtual coffee social via Google Hangouts at DeveloperTown. An employee put it together and it’s been a highlight of this time in quarantine. It’s a weekly reminder that we’re in this together...and that some of us have very fun coffee mugs.

Leadership in the time of COVID-19 doesn’t have to mean a monumental, solo effort for only those at the top. But for those who find themselves in or identify with a leadership role, now is the time to communicate, serve others, and regularly remind our teams that we’re in this together.

When things get tough, it’s up to good people to stand up and do our part. Luckily, that means all of us get to help.

Even those of us who start blog posts with a fart joke.