Life, Leadership, and Inspiration in a Post-COVID World- Part 2 of 3

As another week closes in what feels like a real-world Groundhog Day in COVID-19, we hope you were inspired by the encouraging viewpoints on society and healthcare from our contributing leaders. We can all acknowledge that this Memorial Day Weekend likely felt strikingly different than the celebrations of past years. For readers new to our series, we encourage you to begin by reading Part 1 where leading healthcare experts share their perspectives on society and healthcare in the new world of COVID-19.

With dozens of companies working to develop a vaccine and Dr. Fauci proclaiming cautious optimism, we are encouraged by the slow but meaningful progress made in the battle against COVID-19. With that said, we recognize that the world has a long fight ahead before achieving population-wide immunity and safety. Like most winning battles, success is driven by both the direction of a company’s leader and unified support from the team. For Part 2 of our series, we solicited direction from some of the most successful healthcare leaders themselves on the topics of leadership and organizational shifts.

On Leadership & Organizational Shifts

COVID-19 has directly impacted organizations of all sizes – from the gig worker, self-employed individual to the Fortune 500 C-suite. The most tangible changes have manifested from the sudden shift from in-person to virtual workplaces.

While much discussion has been centered around if companies will move to a predominantly virtual workforce for the long run, there are several other underlying and less obvious changes that may also persist. Examples include stronger company-wide and team-wide communication, greater respect for work-life balance, and an increased emphasis on employee health and safety.

With that said, company leaders are being tasked with arduous responsibilities in the face of the pandemic. But through this hardship, great leaders will rise to the top. Those who can strategically find ways to engage, inspire, and support their employees and customers will build companies that come out stronger on the other side.

Anna Haghgooie, Managing Director, Sandbox Industries: The unexpected challenge of COVID-19 has been reimagining how we work with one another remotely. If we can replicate some of the spontaneous conversations, energy, and “ah ha” moments remotely, it opens up a potential for a more distributed workforce. Lots of trade-offs, positive and negative. It is a good forced experiment we never would have run without COVID-19.

Hemant Taneja, Managing Director, General Catalyst: ““Our best CEOs showed great, agile decision making through these times. They all stepped up take care of their teams first and foremost. They also demonstrate great understanding of their businesses and how to navigate them through a period of uncertainty by measuring the right KPIs and responding to real time changes in the market. Our companies are adapting to selling remotely and developing virtual models that are far more sophisticated out of necessity. Lastly, after playing defense, they all went into “offense” mode to capitalize on this crisis on various levels. The best leaders transparently defined reality and gave hope to lead their teams effectively.”

Matt Hermann, Senior Managing Director, Ascension Ventures: “What has impressed me on the leadership front during the pandemic?  First, our front line workers are the real heroes of this crisis.  Seeing front line workers traveling to geographies where there are worker shortages is leadership personified.  Second, portfolio company recommendations came before prodding from their Boards and investors which we saw during the 2008 financial crisis.  Third, we continue to see leadership behaviors demonstrated up and down a company’s organization structure.  Fourth, it is exciting to see how senior teams feel empowered to re-imagine their businesses.”

Paul LaViolette, Partner, SV Life Sciences, Former COO Boston Scientific: “As an organization, we will be more virtual.   We will (unfortunately) place much, much less emphasis on interpersonal interactions.   The cost here is relationship…for every meeting attended virtually there is a lunch or dinner or shared cab ride that is lost, and a side conversation that will never take place.  [However], I find inspiration during these times in the common man.  The nurse working 24/7.  The neighbor helping an elderly person living alone.  The EMTs, the ICU staff…my God…what they have been through.  It is the common expressions of kindness that make me so humble and challenge me to do more.   I admire some leaders who are leading effectively…anyone can lead a front-runner…try leading in a storm. So, yes, good leadership now is vital and admired, but inspiration comes from the unheralded doing the thankless because of a personal calling.”

Bill Geary, Cofounder & Partner, Flare Capital: “The qualities of a successful leader are unchanged while some of those, including flexibility, adaptability and organizational readiness for the unexpected, are clearly being tested. I’m inspired by the CEOs who have universally embraced the enormous challenges their companies currently face at this time, are uncovering the opportunities, and motivating their employees.”

Zane Burke Chief Executive Officer, Livongo: “Recently, an incredible story made national news. A former Kansas Farmer had five N95 masks in his home, and he decided to keep four of the masks for himself and his family, including his wife who lived with pre-existing conditions, and donated the fifth mask to the frontline healthcare workers in New York. He sent the mask directly to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo along with a letter asking him to pass it along to someone who needed it most. It turns out the man was two credits away from finishing his bachelor’s degree at Kansas State University and had to leave school when his father had passed. Because of his generosity, the University decided to grant him an honorary degree. Turns out that selfless actions can help us achieve our dreams. That is an incredible lesson for all of us.”

Stephen Smith Founder, NOCD: “Successful leaders are defined by how well they face adversity. When the going gets tough, not only do real leaders personally roll-up their sleeves and rise-up to the occasion, but also they inspire people around them to persevere and realize their potential for greatness.”

Bill Taranto, President Merck Global Health Innovation Fund: “The immediate organizational challenge is what expectations emerge around telecommuting.  It changes the need for office space, but also impacts how you run your organization.  Some work, like coding, is easier to do in a distributed environment than others. Leadership is still largely around communication and being able to adapt to different situations.  However, things that work in a physical office (management by walking around) don’t work well in a distributed environment.”

There is no question that company leaders have been tasked with balancing somewhat conflicting demands during the pandemic. In addition to nimbly adapting to meet the short-term needs of the organization, managers must also lead the charge in progressing the company’s long-term vision forward. This paradox of goals is especially heightened as companies move towards a COVID-19 recovery. In addition to formulating back to work plans, organizations must now be prepared to manage or recruit talent in new and changing workforce models. Strong leaders will be those that not only seamlessly execute on the return to work plan, but also augment their organizations to succeed in the new post-COVID world.