My team and I have been hard at work for months. We are not only launching a first to market software, we are also doing so during COVID-19 quarantine. Like many startups, we are tirelessly working in secret to take an industry by storm. There are pros and cons by being first to market. You are a disruptor and you get to set a new baseline. There is one chance to launch. One shot to get it right, your future depends on it. With that, comes tremendous pressure to produce and to develop a perfect product. Then you add in a global pandemic and crashing economy. Simply said, it is a lot of pressure. You put enough pressure and stress on anything it will crack. Much like the Japanese art Kintsugi, heart centered leadership knows that it is normal to crack under the pressure. Providing your team a safe space to crack and grow together, is what will make you stronger and more resilient. Practicing heart centered leadership is being vulnerable with your team and giving permission to be human.
Leading a startup is packed with navigating uncertainty, but in a normal world, startup leaders can take refuge in the comfort of consistency in their daily lives and teams. During COVID-19, consistency is nowhere to be found. Our routines have been uprooted and emotions are running high. So how do we practice heart centered leadership when everything inside and outside our organization is uncertain?
1. When Times Get Hard, Remember Your North Star
In my team, we operate a bit differently. We wear our scars proudly. We are human first. Our North Star is “Be excellent to each other”! Each of us know, that begins with ourselves. If we are not open and honest with ourselves first, we cannot be open with our team. If we do not take care of ourselves first, we cannot take care of each other. This foundational belief has come into play for me many times since COVID-19 swept the globe. We are very fortunate that we work from home and our work is all online, so our jobs have not suffered. But if I were to just carry on “business as usual” it would be a severe disservice to myself and my team, because the world is not “business as usual”. Everything is different, though for us nothing had changed. Being excellent to each other in these times is paramount.
2. Heart Centered Communication Begins with Vulnerability
The first few days of quarantine, I found myself working 12-14 hour days. I was not being excellent to myself. I neglected my morning routine which consisted of journaling, meditation, and movement. One of my teammates had to call me out for wearing the same clothes two days in a row, and also checked to see if I had eaten. I sat with myself and realized, I had a huge case of survivor’s guilt. I felt heavy, sad, and helpless. The place I ran to was my team, I had to come clean in losing sight of our North Star. I sat with my team and had a vulnerable, virtual heart to heart about what we were all facing and feeling. I reminded them of our North Star and held space for us to share our experiences. I lead with vulnerability and showed my ugly truth, so they felt safe to open up about their emotions. As a leader, you must set the stage. For me, it is being open with my team about how my fear and confusion was being outwardly expressed, the process of becoming aware and how I found my way back to our North Star.
3. Hold Space for Grief & Confusion
Not only is my team spread out geographically, our families are all over the world. Though, we may be safe in our homes and still getting paid. Our families in China, Europe, and other parts of the U.S. may not be so fortunate. We needed space for that grief, we need space to be human. I see it as the utmost important part of my job, to hold space for my team to be human and be excellent to themselves. When leading virtual teams, it can be easy to get straight to business. We don’t have the water cooler discussions or breaks together, so we must be more intentional with difficult conversations and human connections. During uncertain times, it is imperative to make time for your team to have discussions about emotions, fears, and frustrations. Remember, it is not enough to tell employees they are psychologically safe, we must show them by leading by example.
4. Live Your Values, Don’t Just Speak Them
My therapist and spiritual teacher says to me, “We must crack for the teachings to fall in”. We do the work and we lean in, so in moments when we crack under the pressure, we can embody those teachings. The fear of the unknown, globally and in my little world has been deeply weighing on me. As we prepare to launch, we must be vulnerable and courageous as we open our company up to the world. For us, it is not just launching a new product, it is baring our souls and inviting people into our space for safe keeping. We are on a mission to empower and radically simplify the lives of our customers. They will be relying on us and it is our responsibility to show up, be honest, and stay true to who we are. This is where the teachings fall in. In this time of fear, I remember that we put people first, over everything. We work together to succeed. We have courage and heart. These are just a few of our company values, but they are more than just words on a website. For me, they are the teachings that fall in when I crack. They are the values that I live by.
5. Be Unwavering
As a leader, I am open with my team about my fear. Also, about leaning into that fear to find my courage to continue on. As I said earlier, we do things a bit differently. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, show up and do what is right. At the core of our business, through our first product launch and each to follow, we will do right by our employees and customers. We will do right, to do well. I believe by centering people, not profits, we will be more sustainable. COVID-19 has not made me cut employee costs. It has made me root further into our values and become unwavering in my belief of putting people first. By showing my team they are safe, they will keep our customers safe. Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable, but changing the direction of your team constantly is reckless and confusing. It is imperative you do not pivot with every breaking news story or piece of advice. If a change of action is required it should be intentional, thoughtful, and well communicated.
Remember, we are stronger together.
Be excellent to each other.