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The Pandemic Is Over. Leadership Lessons Are Not.

This article was originally published by BizCom's Monica Feid on LinkedIn. Please click the link to view the original article.

On March 27, 2020, just days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and the U.S. issued a nationwide lockdown, Catherine Monson, CFE, CEO of FASTSIGNS® [now CEO over all of Propelled Brands], published an article in Harvard Business Review entitled “What Small Businesses Need to Survive the Coronavirus Crisis.”

In her role as Chairwoman of the International Franchise Association, she wasted no time outlining three key ways to move the small business sector forward including securing liquidity, gaining access to capital and engaging with policymakers. She spoke out early with one of the most persuasive voices the minute the pandemic rocked our world.

When I later asked her about it, she said, “My experience has been just because you get elected to Congress, whether it’s the House or the Senate, doesn’t mean that you have any business experience or any economic experience. And if members of Congress aren’t hearing from their constituents, it’s very easy to be swayed by the loudest voice.”

A month earlier, Catherine had already assembled her own leadership team and directed them to outline the operational changes needed to work virtually to any extent possible across headquarters and the entire franchise network at FASTSIGNS while still conducting business. She was acting upon information from a conversation with a friend about what he was witnessing in China that was sure to reach America. Members of her own team called it premature. Catherine saw it as being prepared. When the U.S. government suddenly issued shelter-in-place orders, they were decidedly ahead of the curve.

Leaders must act quickly and decisively.

In a recent conversation with Jack Monson for the IFA’s “Franchise Voice” podcast, Catherine reflected on that journey and said, “It really comes down to how to act quickly and decisively in the case of any crisis.”

She added, “Step one of a crisis is that leadership needs to be visible, apparent, regular, daily, weekly. The team needs to know that you’re immediately available. And then we have to share what we’ve learned.” You can listen to the full podcast HERE.

By networking across individual franchise networks and the IFA’s membership at-large, the industry did, in fact, navigate the unthinkable with better outcomes. FRANdata estimated that more than 75 percent of franchisees received some kind of federal pandemic relief and with PPP funding alone: “Advocacy resulted in the average franchise small business receiving $80,000 in loans, saving more than 200,000 franchised small businesses from permanently closing, helping to preserve almost half-a-million jobs.”

But don’t rush that final victory lap. In spite of the whole ‘pandemic is over’ feeling, exceptional leaders are the first to prepare for what’s ahead. Because one thing is certain. There will be another crisis in our future. The real question is: Will you be ready?

Today most CEOs say they’re not ready for a major crisis.

According to The Conference Board C-Suite Outlook 2023, most CEOs don’t think their organizations are ready to address another major crisis. That’s based on a survey of 1,131 C-Suite executives that included 670 CEOs from around the world. [Read my recent BizBlog for more: “Where’s Your Crisis Plan? No, Really.”]

Never mind that the pandemic began more than three years ago. Since then, we’ve had supply chain disruptions, hurricanes, labor strikes and tech layoffs. We’ve seen the war in Ukraine and Chinese balloons over America. There have been mass shootings and Listeria-contaminated food outbreaks. The list of potential threats is never-ending.

So what are the leadership lessons from COVID that will help us navigate the next unforeseen event? More importantly, why haven’t some leaders learned them yet?

We must be prepared… and also capitalize on what comes.

If you’ve walked the halls of corporate headquarters at Propelled Brands, you know they are covered with a long line of inspirational quotes to encourage, uplift, motivate and direct people. (Catherine is pictured by one of those walls above.) It wasn’t until the pandemic that Catherine zeroed in on what is now her favorite Zig Ziglar quote. She estimates that she walked past that quote for almost four years until it finally struck her at just the right moment.

“Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” – Zig Ziglar

Those words provided the assurance to carry her, her organization and her unprecedented back-to-back terms as Chair of the IFA through the pandemic and beyond. She simultaneously launched an umbrella brand and acquired additional franchise networks [NerdsToGo, MY SALON Suite and Salon Plaza] in that same timeframe.

Now Zig’s quote remains her proactive and positive focus on whatever hurdles could loom ahead. It’s how she theorizes addressing a possible recession, increasing inflation, bank failures, global unrest, another health-related crisis or any number of things. If none of that happens, she’ll consider it a blessing. Whatever comes, however, she’ll be ready. She’ll be calm, optimistic, prepared and able to lead when others need to be led.

More companies and more leaders, surveyed or not, need to be equipped to do the same.

[Note: Propelled Brands is a client of BizCom Associates.]

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