Leaders Helping Leaders Panel Session // April 17, 2020

Tina Brisbin
Business Owner Mambella’s Italian Kitchen

Joe Canavan
CEO of NEXT Canada

Reda Fayek
Current President of Kimitek Inc. and Past Executive of Virtek Inc.

Eric Solowka
Management Consultant and Former Co-CEO of Atlantis Aerospace

Experience leading businesses through crisis is the thread that connected panel participants; their encouragement and advice was the thread that connected them to their audience.

The panel participants agreed that communicating openly with teams and building trust helps when called upon to endure uncertainty; and challenges can be opportunities to learn and to innovate.

“Every blunder or resilience we showed as a team was an incredible lesson that I’ve taken into all my other positions,” Reda Fayek said when reflecting on the dot.com bust following 9/11. “Humans are resilient especially when they know there’s a worthy goal and purpose. The underlying value motivates beyond economy.”

Tina Brisbin expressed the importance of valuing employees. “Employee retention is so important – treat your people with respect; they are your backbone.”

Empowering teams with knowledge can be a game changer. “The more transparent you are with your team, the better the commitment to the company,” said Solowka. “Adverse conditions are opportunities to model that it’s okay to show emotion. Then you come to grips with it and work through it.”

With physical distancing and working remotely, team motivation can be a concern. Entrepreneurs tend to be passionate people and tapping into that passion can strengthen motivation. Having a clear long-term vision and goals can also motivate. “When I head into the eye of the storm, it’s about clarifying the vision or pivoting to see clearly where we are aligned to go,” said Joe Canavan. “The crisis will end; and you can recover.”

Brisbin also said that past stresses on her business resulting from 9/11’s impact on tourism and RIM’s extensive layoffs, led her to develop a line of retail frozen meals where previously her business was mostly catering. The panel agreed that it’s important to look for opportunities when faced with crisis. According to Canavan, crisis can lead to accelerated growth with an investment of comprehensive analysis and preparation. He recommends putting ego aside and investing in yourself and your team during tough times. As a leader, you need integrity, grit and resilience along with the ability to inspire your team with the vision, Canavan said. “Show them the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, warning that quiet leadership can scare people. “This is a defining moment. Do all the important foundational work to prepare for growth and innovation.”

The panel provided other suggestions for managing during the COVID pandemic.

  • Invest your efforts in existing and familiar business relationships.
  • Make sure you understand your market and their needs.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously and try to be objective.
  • If your employees believe in your story, you can retain them and build loyalty.
  • Exhibit, as a leader, the qualities you want to see in employees.
    • Serve, create examples, be positive, be the spirit that drives them forward.
  • Increase communications – make sure people feel heard.
  • Look for alternatives; what can you do differently?
  • Consider what else you can do to create value.

The most valuable takeaway for participants was this: navigating a business through crisis is painful, but you and your team can emerge stronger and more resilient if you tackle it with purpose and intent!

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