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"Hard Conversations" and Other Leadership Lessons During a Crisis

By Lou Whiteman - Feb 1, 2021 at 7:00AM

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Morning Brew's co-founder shares his advice on what leaders need to do when times are tough.

Media company Morning Brew has enjoyed strong growth since its founding barely six years ago. The pandemic posed the biggest challenge in the company's short history. Morning Brew, like most, switched to remote working due to COVID-19, requiring its leaders to change their approach.

During a Jan. 16 appearance on Motley Fool Live, Morning Brew co-founder Alex Lieberman reflected on how he and his management team tried to keep employees engaged during the early days of the pandemic. He also shared with Motley Fool Marketing Manager Margaret Powell his advice on what leaders need to do in a time of crisis. 


Margaret Powell: When you think about the team that you have cultivated this year in one of the most challenging years and probably a lot of hard conversations to be had with your team, what has that looked like and when you think about growing a team and hiring during these types of advertising environments, what has that experience been?

Alex Lieberman: Again, it's been a learning experience. Just to share a few of the lessons that I've had and again, this is what I talked about in Founder's Journal. I'd encourage anyone to just go and listen to it because I won't do the whole episode justice. Basically, the first thing was not going into hiding. The worst thing that a leader or a manager can do during a time of crisis or concern is not say anything and especially in a remote environment where you're not in an office, where your team doesn't see you, to not be present on Slack or Zoom or email. I think the reason it's so bad is because, employees will look at the environment, will be like, "Okay, crazy stuff is going down, is our business going to be OK? Are there going to be layoffs?" Imagine, if you look to your manager, or you look to your leader and you hear nothing. You hear no statement in Slack, you hear nothing in All Hands and you continue to have to wonder for yourself. I think this sends the message to team members that you are on your own, figure it out for yourself. I also think generally, we as human beings are story-making machines, when we don't know all the information, we fill in the information with what we want to fill them with and I think that leads to a lot of momentum and potentially not true narratives. I'd say the first thing was like not going into hiding, showing our team we were present. That goes into the second thing which is being humble, at least as a young founder, I think it was so important early on to not come off as someone who has had hundreds of raps at this. I think early on with any of these crisis, saying to our team, "We are going to do our very best, to push the company forward to communicate to our team."

We want to be clear, they're going to be points where we mess up, where we mess up in the decisions we make and all we can promise is to do what we believe is right by this company and the right thing is people. I think that's such an important thing to do, to disarm people and can connect with them. Because I truly believe unless you're like Dara, who runs Uber and who's run several companies, it's impossible to manage crises perfectly. I think disarming people or letting people know that you're trying your best and you're going to make mistakes, gives you the permission not to want to make mistakes, but when you do make them, you at least have told people that you're not perfect. I think that's another big one. The final thing I'll say is customizing care. Being a leader or being a manager is like being a doctor. Imagine if you treated every patient with the exact same diagnosis and the exact same bedside manner. Every employee enjoys being communicated to in a certain way, every employee has different levels of confidence and questions and the need to be reassured and so I'd say the other thing is finding ways to communicate in a scalable way with everyone at the company level. Then finding ways to prioritize speaking to the people who will benefit most from being spoken to you in a one-on-one manner in a way that you can customize your care.

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