Being a business leader is always challenging, but it feels more so when the news is less positive. Recent weeks in China have clearly been such a case.

The news and fallout from the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has shaken us all from the anticipated post-CNY rebound. Amidst the sadness at the human toll, and the health-related actions we’ve all taken extremely seriously, the wider reaction of true leaders tends to begin with a very human response. How can I support the people I am responsible for? What can I do to assure them in these times? What responses do we need to make to keep them safe? There are of course many actions we have already taken as a business to answer these questions.

Yet we are in a country which has been no stranger to struggles in the past. China’s business community has gained its strength from being hard-working, resilient, and team focused. We are tough. These are qualities that I’ve seen in ample evidence this month, and they are qualities that auger well for what we hope will be a gradual but a steady return to business in a ‘new normal’ situation.

One of the mixed blessings of being ‘experienced’ (my kids might say ‘old’) is that people start to ask you for your advice. Fortunately, I’ve had a career surrounded by some strong and resilient people, both as customers and colleagues. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about rebounding in tough times.

1. Reconnect with people

One truism in the business of recruitment is that the more conversations and connections we have, the better our eventual business results will be. Even while teams are confined to home calls and restricted to phone contact, reconnecting with them in person is always the beginning of any rebound process. Of course, some will be slower to move than they would normally be – but hearing from partners, and rebuilding bonds, is always a positive first step.

2. Work on your mindset

Science shows us time and again that the mind is a powerful determinant for success. Starting each day with what one of our training partners calls “playing from a 10” can be a valuable way for leaders to refocus on going into each situation without baggage, and with a mindset that seeks out opportunities for learning. Baggage and negativity are best isolated, addressed and left behind. By finding our “10 out of 10” in terms of energy and positivity before each important interaction, we in turn give each opportunity the best chance of succeeding.

3. A Useful Equation 

Another equation that I like in leadership terms is the simple idea of ‘E + R = O’, or Event + Reaction = Outcome. In any situation as a leader, the Event is often out of our control, but it can create an immediate emotional response. It’s really our Reaction to the Event that will determine the Outcome for our company and team. The key therefore is that in any situation, when confronted with a stressful Event, our minds should immediately focus on the sort of Outcome we wish to achieve. This can then help us to craft our Reaction – and in particular, avoid us taking actions that might made the outcome worse.

4. Humour is a release

Many of us who have witnessed shock have seen one of two reactions – tears or laughter. Both can be involuntary reactions, and in a team, both should be encouraged, so long as the reactions are appropriately contained in a sensitive way. On any of my team’s work floors, I’m always most concerned at hearing silence. Banter and laughter are not signs that people aren’t scared or effected. They indicate a team processing the situation – and releasing stress in a positive way. As a self-applied action, exercise can also be equally positive.

5. Be ready for the movers

Lastly, all your team should be open to the notion that soon enough, your business partners will be ready to get on with it. For some of us, hard work is the best way to rebound from adversity. In reality, this is how many of us will process challenges. We are living in an industrious nation – this economic miracle that is China did not happen by accident. Soon enough, people will be ready to move: just be sure that they do the moving with your company.

All the above are reactions I’ve seen working over my years. I would love to hear from you about any advice as leaders you would have too. Thanks, keep in touch, and stay safe and well.

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