COVID-19: Keeping Your Leadership Head in the Game

March 29, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

Karie Bennett is the owner of the highly successful Atelier Salons in San Jose, CA.

Like many tens of thousands of salon/spa owners in the USA and Canada, Karie’s salons are closed due to COVID-19. It is heartbreaking and stressful for owners and employees alike that, just weeks ago, were leading thriving active businesses.

Karie went to check on one of her salons and wrote the following post on Facebook that captured the weight that all owners are burdened with during this lockdown.

I went into one of my salons to check on it and make sure that the lights were turned out to conserve on the utilities and that the refrigerator was cleaned out, the alarm was on and everything was OK in there. I wore an N 95 mask that I had left over from the wildfires to walk from my car to the door in case anyone was out and about.

It’s been a week since I closed the business due to this virus. I spent all last week applying for disaster relief loans, asking for rent relief, reducing payments and talking to my banker, accountant, attorney, and almost every salon owner that I know in my network. And we are in a weird kind of a limbo because we want to help our employees with more than just their unemployment, but we’re all in the same boat.

I’d love to be able to tell you that I had three months of operating expenses in the bank but a small business like mine, and it is a SMALL business, not a big corporation, operates with a slimmer profit margin then you would think. Being able to offer our employees so much during the good times means there’s less in the bank when something completely unexpected like this comes along. There is no insurance that will pay us for this.

So here I am making phone calls to defer payments, to hold onto as much cash in the bank as possible, so that once we get an answer from the government and what’s gonna be happening, we can respond quickly. It’s heartbreaking.

I am not relieved of the responsibility of caring for the people in my company just because the company is closed. I have no cause for celebration, because the burden is still on me even though the employees in the company have been laid off due to this mandatory shut down, but also because it is our social responsibility. And I can’t relax because unemployment is on the way because it won’t be enough.  

Every business is responding to this the best way that they can, or they know how. I just hope the government will find a way to agree on this economic relief package and get it signed and get some help out to us, because in the meanwhile, we all need some answers. I will find answers and the way to help and get through this.

Sending all the love I have to you all.

I asked Karie if I could use her post because it was brutally honest and real. It spoke what all entrepreneurial leaders with a heart are feeling.

Karie’s response

Hi Neil, of course you can. I think it’s typical of leaders. We think that we have to put our best face out to the world. That we can’t let our staff and our customers know what we’re going through.  

It’s time to pull back the curtain and embrace our humanity and show our reality. In today’s world, it’s about authenticity, transparency and sharing experiences. That’s what’s going to get us through. Thank you so much for reaching out.

Here’s my challenge to you: As leaders, we don’t like being out of control of our businesses. But right now, there’s only so much we can control.

Only you can control your thoughts. Now more than ever, your thoughts need to focus on reopening and leading your business out of this crisis. That’s how you help employees.

That’s how to give you and your employees a future to come back to.

Keep your feelings and mood locked onto one objective — getting your employees back to work and the doors open.

And when feelings of fear and anxiety overwhelm you and beat down your spirit, remember that you are human.

You earned the right to grieve for the business you gave years of hard work and sacrifices to build.

You earned the right to grieve for your employees that are struggling to figure out their finances — yet still believe in you and your dream.

Let out all the pent-up mental junk and burdens that COVID-19 brought to your world. Ball your eyes out. Scream at the top of your lungs. You damn well earned the right to.

You are the leader of your company. You need to put your leadership hat on and wear it more boldly and proudly than ever before.

This quote, from Tom Peters, captures exactly where we entrepreneurial leaders are today:

You remind yourself every day that this crisis isn’t just something to “get through”— it is the Final Exam of leadership competence and character.

People often make great leaps in a short period during difficult times.

You can do this. You’re not alone in this battle.

Categories: Coronavirus , Leadership

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  1. “Thank you, I needed this today. I have a zoom meeting with my staff in a few hours and this was the shot in the arm I needed to put me in the right mindset.”

  2. Thank you Neil, there is nothing in any book that can prepare us for this. Unfortunately very few of us have done what we should to protect our businesses from a fallout. Learn from our mistakes is the final lesson “I will never be in this boat again”.

  3. Neill, thanks so much for being there for us! I can’t imagine what salon owners and service providers with no “lifeline” are doing right now to begin to know what to do to get through this. I am blessed to have Strategies and other salon business training companies in my life to help me get through this. Feeling very grateful!

  4. Words and thoughts WELL SPOKEN!… we are ALL feeling this.. there’s also something that I think is worth adding to this if I may.. in times like these looking to what we CAN do helps me switch my fear off if even just for a moment so as to get some sort of relief … my husband and I are in extreme hardship , all our businesses are customer service, beauty and restaurants , we face the same struggles. If nothing else this has forced us to stop for a second or two, realize we are all human as stated, that’s a good thing. Our resourcefulness and wisdom that helped us to begin as leaders will get us all through this. Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Thank you Neill for sharing. I find checking in with my staff every couple of days and posting beauty tips on my Instagram for the salon gives me purpose and is keeping me connected to the clients. You are our Beauty Mayor, Keep up the good work we appreciate you ,thank you

  6. I think the trouble with our industry is that we are not “influential” enough. Where is the barber/beauty relief package? I didn’t see any in the first 3 bail out bills and I don’t hear of any coming in the 4th or 5th bills either. We are like the swimmer who goes out and tries to save someone drowning and all the other swimmer wants to do is stand on our head to save themselves. Perhaps we need to create our own P.A.C? (political action committee). Out of the TRILLIONS of dollars given out by the government, how much did you/we get?

  7. Thank you Neil and Strategies Team! You all have been awesome through all of this! There are so many emotions right now and it is planning ahead plus day by day.
    Your blog posts always help!
    You guys are awesome!

  8. Karie I’m sharing this wonderfully articulate and brutally honest story with my son, owner of a small business. Thanks for the message and the optimism. Kathy


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