Leaders Shine in the Darkness

Matthew Knoke’s in-home podcast studio.

I ‘m writing to you from my underground podcast studio: A place I’ve been spending most of my time in to record, complete homework assignments and connect with other peers. Three weeks ago, I didn’t expect to have my life turned upside down; I’m sure you didn’t either? From online learning, to new procedures at work, and social distancing, all these are new and completely out of the ordinary. All these uncharted waters really made it important for leaders like me to shine and lead by example even when all else seems dark and uncertain.

Three weeks ago, I was bombarded with news alerts, new regulations and daily messages from friends and family. COVID-19 had made it into mainstream media; however, it was here months prior. At first, school was just cancelled for an extra week; then the month; then for the rest of the semester. Along with changes at school, I also had changes at work and in my personal life.

All these changes came rapidly and out of nowhere. These unexpected changes, or crisis, happen more than we’d like in the real world. I know many of you are not leaders yet, and some of you might not inspire to be leaders. However, these important tips can be lived out by anyone inspiring to better their college career, future career, or personal life.

Tip 1: Remain Consistent
As a leader, you must be consistent so employees, student-org members, and your peers have something that isn’t changing in their lives. When people called in to work I said, “let’s just do businesses as usual with some easy changes for now.” In my student org, we are still producing our podcast, holding elections, and planning for next year. When everything is changing, people need someone or something they can trust and hold onto. Being consistent is only powerful if you are positive about it.

Tip 2: Be Positive
It’s always great to be positive, but during a crisis, it’s essential. Last week, an employee texted saying, “it’s going to be bad today.” I responded with, “Great job last night closing –  making sure everything got done; you ROCK! Today will be great because of YOU.” This simple form of positive feedback gave that employee hope, and a positive attitude when coming to work. One of the main reasons this employee was negative was because he wasn’t taking on change the correct way.

Tip 3: Take on CHANGE like a Champ
Leaders need followers, and not too many are going to follow someone who doesn’t like the change themselves. As a leader, it is important to lead by implementing changes while making it seem routine and fun. Over the past couple weeks, every time we had to implement a change at work I brought in Starbucks for the crew. And each time a student was concerned about something relating to the student-org changes, I gave them something positive to look forward too. Giving people simple, step-by-step directions beforehand, and then following through with gifts and making some jokes along the way really helps.

Tip 4: Realize the costs, but focus on the benefits
The company I work for had to cut down on employee hours because sales declined 30%. Some employees had to stay home to watch their kids. And my student org had to stop all in-person meetings and cancel our important business trip to Arizona. These were all huge or BIG or massive costs, but as a leader I chose to focus on the benefits that came with the costs.

Over the past couple weeks, it has been kind of nice to work alone in the restaurant. This, of course, was my choice. Working alone saved on labor costs for the company and it gave me time to think and really talk and get to know the guests who visit us. It gave my employees time to spend with their families and get some housework done. And at school, it gave my student organization time to plan for next year and focus on our virtual communication skills. Change is scary to most, but when they see a leader do it, they usually follow along.

Tip 5: We are in this Together – SHOW IT!
As a leader, you feel like you’re alone sometimes. But even then, you must lead people into the unknown. Other leaders feel the same. So, it is important to showcase these ideals to others in an inspirational, funny, and strategic way. Last week I posted this on my Instagram page.

Instagram post from  3.20.2020

In the post I was holding a Jersey Mike’s Subs. I currently work at Cousins Subs a competitor of Jersey Mike’s, so it was out of the ordinary to eat at one of our competitors. But they, like us, are struggling during this time, and the post showed some humor and offered some encouragement. Overall, it focused on all of us being in this together.

So, What?
These five tips that I shared: Consistency, Being Positive, Taking on Change like a Champ, Focusing on the Benefits, and Showing we are in this Together are all important even if you are not a leader, but especially if you are. Many of you are still in college, but someday you all will be working on teams and managing a busy life. At some point, probably when you least expect it, a crisis may strike, like COVID-19. And these five essential tips from your college days will hopefully guide you into successfully managing a crisis. And, if you are not the leader, you can surely still share these tips to help make your life easier on your team.

Written By: Matthew Knoke

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