It’s never an easy time to be a chamber leader. But right now is a defining moment in our history. Are you ready to not only lead, but to be a better leader during the pandemic?
Some chamber leaders excel naturally in times of question, filled with innovative solutions. But most of us don’t fit that mold.
We may be excellent leaders during the time of normal economic growth. But the virus has changed what our community needs. We have not faced this sort of economic challenge in the technology age.
Most of us have to work at being an effective crisis leader. Here are some ways you can help your community by becoming the type of leader they don’t teach you about in school.
Train for the Marathon
Weathering and recovering from this pandemic requires a marathon mentality.
While you’re going to want to do everything people in need ask of you, that’s not sustainable. For your mental and physical health, you will need to say “no” to some requests. In that case, whenever possible, refer them to someone who can help.
Don’t feel guilty.
Consider this your best tactic for helping the community through the long run. Protect your own wellness so that you can finish the marathon.
While your community may very well need a cheerleader and not a negative Nelly, if they never see any emotion from you they won’t be able to connect with you.
This is an upsetting time. Even if it doesn’t affect you personally in your business, your area’s businesses are your business and you’ll likely hear and see some very discouraging things in the next few months.
You don’t need to hide your emotions from members and the community but you do need to be ready with solutions.
Mourn the losses and let them fuel your fire (and others) to help you come up with solutions and strategies that will benefit the community.
Innovate and Practice Agility
While there have been some times in history where we have faced similar challenges, there is nothing exactly like this pandemic in a time period like this one.
The availability of social media and online reporting means that people are experiencing the news of this pandemic in a way that they haven’t in the past.
You, too, will need to come up with innovative solutions (such as virtual events) that you can put into practice quickly. This is not a time for committees to study committees. You need to remain agile and look to yourself, your community, and other communities to help you plot the best course for your area .
Sharpen Your Advocating Skills
In the past, your chamber may have decided that advocacy was not something you wanted to work on. But today, there is a major tug of war occurring between balancing the health care needs of a community and the economic ramifications of remaining closed. You need to be the voice of your community businesses.
In many cases, the federal government has turned the decision-making over to the states as each state has been affected by the virus differently. You will need to be advocating for your community on multiple levels.
There are a number of conversations that are going on that you need to be involved in.
These may include emergency funding, reopenings, classifications for essential businesses, and more. If you don’t have the relationships built that would yield an invitation to the table for discussion, then you need to find ways to insert yourself into those conversations in a respectful and appropriate manner.
Most governments don’t have an established protocol to base their decisions on. They are making decisions on a weekly basis based on numbers and suggestions from health care organizations. It’s your job to provide them with information about local businesses. If you don’t, those voices may not be heard.
Being an advocate for your businesses also means making those business owners aware of the current conversations being held surrounding their future. It’s important that they understand what’s being discussed as well.
None of us has all of the answers here. And it’s becoming an impassioned argument between one-size-fits-all laws aimed at keeping people safe versus allowing them to return to business in some capacity in order to ward off the potential of economic devastation. Both sides have valid concerns. Both groups want the best for the community, which brings us to another powerful skill leaders need right now more than ever.
Be a Diplomatic Leader During the Pandemic
While the chamber is the voice for business, there is also a desire to see a healthy community.
In addition to advocacy, you may be called upon to bring the “safer at home” and the “return to business” groups together for meaningful conversation.
This will certainly be a test of your leadership skills, but the good news is that both groups want the best for your community. They simply can’t agree on what that is. This will be an ongoing conversation and a strong chamber leader will likely be the one to convene the organizations and decision-makers and act diplomatically when dealing with them.
You may also need to bring together groups within your chamber leadership including volunteers and board members if the relationship is under strain.
Let Go of the Guilt
There inevitably will be things that you’re going to mourn. Things about your regular routine that are no longer predictable. As a chamber leader, you may have enjoyed a certain level of control and organization from a scheduling perspective. If you had any of that before, you likely don’t now. That requires some getting used to.
You may have had to cancel or postpone chamber offerings that you enjoyed such as a chamber trip or a member appreciation gala. It’s okay to feel disappointed about these things. Stop feeling guilty for being human. That is the exact trait that helps you connect with others and be effective in your job.
Tell yourself that you are doing the best you can with the circumstances you’ve been given. Just as you’ve been kind to others you need to be kind to yourself if you expect to weather the pandemic.
Be in the Now
When the shelter at home orders were first released, many of us thought of post-apocalyptic shows like Walking Dead and I Am Legend.
We thought of the worst-case scenarios and some of us may have even become paralyzed in fear of what might happen to our economy.
But all that time spent worried about a stock market crash and 50% unemployment has done nothing to alleviate the economic situation.
Worrying only stresses your body, making you more susceptible to illness (not something you want now).
Worry does not prepare you to handle things better in the future, nor does it make you feel better about the potential challenges facing you.
Worry does not make you a better leader during the pandemic or any other time.
Worry is a waste of time.
Instead, when you feel yourself getting into the “what-if” territory of fear, challenge yourself to answer those fears.
Dig deep and find ways to counteract your anxiety with possible solutions. It doesn’t mean they’ll work or they’ll be the ones that you use if you are faced with those challenges. It simply trains your brain to realize that as easily as you can come up with worst-case scenarios you can also come up with possible solutions.
Soon you will stop jumping ahead of yourself into a future that could be and instead begin designing plans for what you want it to be.
Connect with Your Staff and Board
If you have chamber staff and board working from home, it’s essential to take the time to check in on them.
Often those of us in the leadership position are busy doing the good work and it’s easy to forget that we have our own needs too. Schedule time at least once a week to have a conversation with them about their challenges and concerns.
Stay Connected to Your Peers
Just as you want to check in on your staff and board, it’s important to remain connected to your chamber peers as well. There are a lot of amazing innovators in the chamber sphere.
In fact, there may be chamber leaders doing things in their communities that you could replicate in your own. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
Use resources like the Chamber of Commerce Professionals group on Facebook to stay focused on what others are doing, saying, and sharing. Not only will you get some good ideas but they can also be a great source for stress relief, humor, and friendship.
Get Skilled at Separating Fact from Feeling
It’s easy at this time to get overwhelmed by emotion. Everyone is a journalist these days serving up facts and figures that may have little basis in reality and just something they saw on social media. It’s often that these shares are fraught with feeling and they elicit a powerful response in those who believe them.
Before reacting to an emotional call to action, figure out if that source is trustworthy and accurate. Times of trouble bring out unsavory characters with dubious intentions who make anxious individuals more apt to believe them with less cause.
As the head of the chamber, you’ve been thrust into a challenging situation with this virus. However, you are not in this alone. It is possible to grow and thrive through challenges you just have to begin to recognize the possibilities.