Becoming CEO during a global pandemic

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

It’s been more than a year since writing my last blog post.

A lot has happened, and I feel the past 12 months have been deeply transformative, both professionally and personally.

Last year, I started the journey towards becoming a success and business coach, feeling called to follow my passion.

However, 2020 had other plans for me and, in January this year, I was elected by the board of directors to take over the role of Chief Executive Officer at my company.

I decided to accept this challenge with great excitement, as I believe the role of a CEO is really to empower and grow a high performing individuals, which is exactly what I believe my life purpose is about.

Little did I know that soon the pandemic would hit the World hard, causing us not only to work from home, but to completely redefine the role of a leader.

As I’m writing this post, my genuine intention is to share my experience, as I believe many people found themselves in a similar situation, feeling lost, lonely or simply exhausted.

As leaders, we don’t often share our feelings or allow ourselves to be vulnerable, while trying to project this image of keeping everything together at all times.

I could literally write a book about this experience so far, but, conscious of your time, I will try to summarise a few important learnings that might be beneficial to a more general audience:

A) You need to adapt your leadership style in a crisis situation

It’s funny to think about all the time I spent reading management and leadership books and attending courses.

It’s actually ironic because none of these books or courses ever talked about the role of a leader during a global crisis, and very few resources will actually focus on how to lead in a crisis situation.

No one was prepared to lead in the 2020 madness.

And no one certainly prepares you to take over a company and manage a global pandemic situation.

I saw very different approaches from different leaders, but what really helped me was to re-evaluate my leadership style and adapt it to the current situation.

In a “normal” situation, a new CEO has the time to settle in, spend time with the team and learn the company dynamics.

I did not have the privilege of that time.

Luckily, I was given a very precious piece of information from one of my mentors, very early in the first days.

He saw my struggle of balancing between making the right thing for the company and making the right thing for people in the organisation.

He shared with me an article written by Ben Horowitz (cofounder and general partner at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz), which discussed the difference between a peacetime and a wartime CEO.

Peacetime and wartime require radically different management styles. Interestingly, most management books describe peacetime CEO techniques while very few describe wartime.

This was game changing, as it allowed me to have the permission to focus entirely on the company survival for a period of time, re-evaluating if our company strategy and current team was the best one to serve us at this stage.

I had to take some difficult decisions quickly, re-focusing the company efforts onto new projects, as well as accelerate the implementation of the company pipeline.

I had to let go of team members.

I focused on our customers, their needs, their desires and struggles.

I obsessively researched our industry, to find new needs we could solve in the market.

Looking backwards now, these were all wise decisions, which are leading us to having strong fundamentals today.

Today, my focus is progressively shifting mostly into empowering leaders in the organisation, improving our company culture and motivation, as well as developing strong revenue driven projects/processes.

B) No one has the perfect answer or solution, and neither do you

As a leader, you have to take fast decisions, and you need to be accountable for them.

In a crisis time, you’ll need to take VERY fast decisions.

You will not have enough information’s most of the time.

I’ve always been kind of a control freak; all my business decisions have been backed by strong data and analysis, minimising potential risks.

I did not have that privilege this time.

I had to balance my desire to have enough data with the urgency of critical decision making.

I had to let go of the illusion of control towards listening more to my intuition, based on my experience and past situations.

It was very important for me to realise that I should not be the one having the perfect answer or solution, I should be the one who challenges the status quo, who empowers critical thinking and collaboration across the teams.

It’s not a one-man game, you are not the solution to all the company problems, you are an enabler of individual’s strengths.

These strengths together are what makes a company successful.

C) The science of achievement and the art of fulfilment

Tony Robbins often talks about success, which he defines as a perfect combination of developing the science of achievement, as well as the art of fulfilment.

The Science of Achievement is our ability to turn any goals into reality, to produce consistent results.

This is what drives us in our business/ career life and what we obsess about every day.

However, we often forget to enjoy the journey and find appreciation for every day, no matter the circumstances life puts us in.

And this is exactly what The Art of Fulfilment is, or the process of finding joy in whatever life brings; harnessing the power to understand, appreciate and enjoy our lives at the deepest level, no matter the circumstance.

Gratitude is something I have incorporated in my everyday life since a long time ago, and it revealed to be even more precious during Covid.

Much of this is based on mastering meaning and realising that life is happening for us rather than to us, being able to turn every adversity into a learning opportunity.

Every day, rather in the morning or in the evening I find some time to reflect in solitude and give gratitude for all the gifts of life. If there is even a day I forget to do so, I immediately feel less energetic, motivated and generally not in a good mood.

Never underestimate the importance of gratitude – it can literally turn the meaning of your life, especially in difficult times.

My fiancé and I often joke about the fact that Covid was one of the greatest times for us, to reconnect at a deeper level and focus on growth.

While most of the world was incessantly looking at the news and complaining, we used this time to grow our knowledge on different topics, increase our physical strength through exercise and deepen our connection.

D) A leader is not a therapist and the importance of your support network

The last point is probably the most important of all, and it was a big learning for me.

When I took over the new role, I spent a lot of my energy on making sure my team was ok, as well as making sure I was the rock for my family and friends.

I never complained about my own struggles, never shared any frustrations.

I felt invincible, like a super human whose existence is focused entirely on bringing calm and reassurance to others.

Until the day I literally couldn’t wake up in the morning because my energy was completely drained.

I gave all I had, and did not take care of myself properly. I didn’t protect my own energy.

Your role is to lead and give as much support as needed, but you cannot change other people’s perspectives if they are not open to do so themselves.

Your role is to inspire, not to be a therapist at whom everyone throws their problems or expects you to solve them.

And most importantly, you need your own support network.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

Are you surrounded by people who uplift you and encourage you, or by people who put you down?

My close support network was fundamental for me to be able to have constructive feedback and a safe space to vent.

At the same time, I realised that I needed more mentors and advisors to guide me and support me through business decisions.

I built a customer advisory board for my company, reaching out to people in my network who I admired and from whom I wanted to learn from.

I reached out to people on LinkedIn, in VCs and accelerator networks, and in communities networks.

I spent a lot of time asking questions, listening, taking notes.

I learned about fundraising, business development, project management, product, HR, Fintech, B2B and team management.

And the great thing is… this is just the beginning.

We never stop learning.

... And if I’ll ever find myself in a situation where I think I know all the answers, it will mean that it’s time for me to go and embark on another journey.

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