WAGMI: Leading in a Time of Crisis

A lot of people in Palo Alto were running around with checks on Friday, trying to open new accounts after this announcement from the FDIC

If you are out of the loop on the SVB bank closure and why it is devastating to the Startup community, I recommend reading this article by my Workweek friend Alex Johnson.

This is a crisis for many founders, as Silicon Valley Bank was the most popular option for the startup community. The founders who weren’tweren’t able to get their money out of the bank in time are now solving how they will make payroll and pay their bills.

Isa Watson, Founder & CEO of the Squad app, announced on Twitter that she was spending her weekend transferring her company’s bills to her personal credit card. “A *lot* is falling on founders personally,” she added. 

There is a lot of speculation about the future all over the internet, but let’s look at how you can graciously lead through a crisis in your organization–SVB related or otherwise.

(Quick note: If you are a founder working through the SVB fallout, this list of resources curated by Nicole Casperson is great.)

The first thing to know about leading through a crisis is that Crises are Common.

Leaders don’t get to have streaks of good days because problems are always going to happen when you are leading teams and growing a business.

A true leader knows how to weather the storm and keep their team on course, no matter what comes their way. When hard times hit, bad leaders crumble faster than a sand castle built too close to the ocean. But not us. We stay strong, and we persevere. We don’t just survive. We thrive. 

Leaders aren’t built in a crisis. They are revealed. 

Nothing can stop us!

A crisis is a distraction. 

A crisis is taking you away from your priorities. It’sIt’s like a shiny object that catches your eye and pulls you away from your focus. And with all the noise out there – the constant breaking news alerts, the panic in the stock market – it’s easy to get sidetracked. But here’s the thing: a true leader knows how to stay focused, even amid chaos. Keep your priorities visible at all times. Don’tDon’t let anything derail you from your mission. 

I once heard John Maxwell speak about leading in times of crisis. 

He broke down these 3 internal battles you will face:

  1. Mind Wandering: Thinking about what could happen instead of focusing on what is happening.
  2. Negative Thinking: Feeling as if everything that could go wrong is going wrong.
  3. Uncertain Anxiety: Fear of the unknown which amplifies other fears.

Stay focused and stay disciplined. Whatever stands in the way, becomes the way. 

Communication is Everything

When your team doesn’t have information, they’ll start digging, coming to their own conclusions, and filling the gaps of incomplete information with their own stories. If your team already has trust issues with your organization, this can spiral out of control quickly.

As a leader, your #1 responsibility during a crisis is to communicate clearly and consistently with everyone on your team. Challenge yourself to think about who is unintentionally left out of the loop and anticipate the questions your team will have.

Your first communication should be out within 24 hours of a crisis.

Elizabeth Yin wrote a great piece about leading during a crisis last week.

In it she provides this template for communication with your team and investors. 

So, in this situation, if you haven’t already sent out communications to your employees and investors, I’dI’d highly recommend doing that today. It can be short and sweet:

For investors:

  • You may have heard about SVB (link)
  • We were/weren’taffected and to what extent
  • If affected, we are still trying to learn X and will keep you informed
  • Thank you for your support always

For employees:

  • You may have heard about SVB (link)
  • We were/weren’taffected and to what extent
  • 1 line about payroll – i.e. rest assured, we are actively looking at loan options to make this work (if with SVB) / or we were not affected
  • Business is as usual
  • If you have questions / concerns, my door is always open

In times of crisis, be thoughtful with how you present information, but me most thoughtful about developing a cadence that allows for questions and concerns to be addressed and your team to be confident you are doing the work to ensure they are taken care of. Have questions? I’ll always help how I can.

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit JacobEspinoza.com.

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