June 26, 2020

5 Things I’ve Learned About Leadership

5 Things I’ve Learned About Leadership

As I get ready to start my summer hiatus from writing this column every week, I started to reflect on life since March 15. Last week was my pivot from being obsessed with writing about the coronavirus pandemic and the start of my trying to return to some degree of normalcy. But the last 3+ months have provided me with much on the job training about leadership, some of which I was forced to ad-lib, sometimes on a daily basis, particularly in the beginning of all the craziness we’ve been through.

There’s a lot most of us want to forget about COVID-19, as we continue to open the country back up, but I have to admit the crisis was a great teacher. It’s tempting, as a CEO, to think you know it all, but here are a few things I’ve learned about leading in a crisis that I won’t forget as we move into the next phase of the recovery.

1. Communication really matters.

Throughout the crisis, Marcum held monthly virtual town hall meetings for our 2,500 people to dial in and hear from me directly. In addition to whatever I had to share on each call, all of our associates could submit questions (anonymous or not) for me to address personally, on the fly. Even in such a large forum, it was a great way to stay connected and keep everyone up to date, and it was a great way to truly understand what was in the hearts and minds of our team.

2. The true value of a top-notch management team.

I’ve always been a big believer in investing in the best leadership talent, but seeing our leadership team in action throughout the crisis was a powerful reminder of how good they all are and how important they are to the future of Marcum. No CEO has all the answers, and our Executive Committee has been a tremendous asset to me personally and to the entire Firm, in making sure we discussed, vetted and resolved every important matter.

3. The power of technology.

Regular readers know I am a big proponent of tech. Long before the coronavirus struck, we made major investments in the technology our team would need in order to work from home in a crisis that would keep our workforce out of the office. Of course, no one could have foreseen COVID-19. But in anticipating various crisis scenarios with a variety of outcomes, we were able to be thoroughly prepared for the COVID crisis when it hit. We’re in the client services business, and our clients rely on us every day to help them manage their own businesses and personal affairs. So we realized that remaining operational in a crisis was non-negotiable.

When the crisis ultimately came, we literally flipped the switch and went from working in the office one day to working from home the next day. It was entirely seamless – and moreover, Marcum has actually grown during this period, as clients turned to us to help them navigate these choppy times.

4. Trust your team.

Marcum is incredibly fortunate to have superior talent at all levels of the organization, from administrative support to the upper reaches of executive management. I couldn’t be more proud and more thankful for the way our entire team rose to the challenges in front of us and did whatever was necessary to keep our operation going without a hitch. They kept our clients fully informed, delivered service as if everything were normal, and never once dropped the ball. I am one lucky CEO.

5. Understand and acknowledge that your staff have personal lives.

In a crisis situation, everyone on your team is balancing many different obligations and priorities that may sometimes supersede their professional obligations. As a leader, you have to recognize that acknowledging this is not just about being flexible but about having compassion for your people and the incredible stress they are managing. Everyone deserves the respect, credibility and appreciation that lets them know their jobs are not going to be in jeopardy if they have to tend to family situations. I have total confidence that our staff will fulfill their professional obligations, the same as always, even if the hours are a little different – and the circumstances a lot different. Everyone on our team more than earned that confidence. For that, I am very grateful.

No doubt, there are more unexpected challenges ahead. And I’m sure they’ll hold plenty of lessons they don’t teach you in business school.

On a positive note, Juneteenth (June 19) – the day commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. – was named an official holiday in New York City as well as a number of states across the country, and efforts to make it a national holiday are gaining new momentum. Another step in the right direction was the decision by several consumer products companies to retire or re-envision brands with legacies that go back to the era of slavery, like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s. Hopefully, these are more than politically expedient gestures. I’m genuinely hoping it signals a serious reconsideration of racial disparities in the U.S. that will lead us towards real and meaningful change. There’s a lot more work to be done, but it’s a start.

This will be my last blog before we take our traditional summer hiatus. I’d be remiss without acknowledging and thanking the TOTW team of Elaine Pofeldt, Julie Gross Gelfand and Chris Pelosi. Without them…

It has been a challenging year for all of us, and I hope that you will all have an opportunity to rest and recharge in the weeks to come. See you after Labor Day and remember: Stay safe, stay healthy, and we are all in this together.