We’re a very close team at 2Leadership. Our shared vision of the future and our passion for what we do has always served as a strong bond between us. However, each of us has experienced the last few months very differently, and, as we individually move out of crisis into the recovery phase, we find ourselves in our own unique situations.
Given how important it is for leaders to be conscious of this fact, and that we cannot expect our people to be exactly the same as they were before the pandemic, we asked Heike and Ferdinand in our team to share their very different experiences with us. Heike from the perspective of mother, grandmother, wife, business owner, living on the Croatian island Krk, and Ferdinand, from the perspective of husband, father, and Start-Up coach, living near the Portuguese metropolis Lisbon.
We hope that this will encourage you, as a leader, to take the time to ask your team how they’ve experienced this situation as individuals, so that you can be empathetic to their situation and give them the support they will need in the coming months.
1. In mid-March, Covid-19 suddenly had a major impact on the global business. How did you experience the first days of this drastic change?
Ferdinand: I mainly experienced this change privately. The children were suddenly at home and had to move their school to our home. We had to remodel the house so that we could deal with the situation. We now have a ‘school room’ and we created daily plans that are synced to our own ‘prime time’, meaning the time when each of us is most productive.
Heike: For me it was also mainly private. My children and grandchildren are in Germany and I was really worried because we’re far away on Krk. At first it wasn’t clear how dangerous this virus is, and that was challenging mentally. Professionally, it wasn’t a problem because I’ve always worked remotely with 2Leadership.
2. Did your location have anything to do with how you experienced the crisis?
Ferdinand: Yes, of course. We live in Portugal and, like Germany, Portugal coped well with the crisis. One of the reasons for this is that Portugal was one of the last countries affected and there is a mentality of ‘basic duties’ of the citizens, which are lived just as consciously as fundamental rights. So, everything was very disciplined and calm. The country was well prepared.
Heike: Croatia, as a country, handled the crisis excellently, which is why I felt well guided in the uncertainty.
3. Does Covid-19 concern you personally or at a business level in any way?
Heike: I don’t worry about the future. I love this job but if I don’t have it tomorrow, there will be something new. I’ve started ‘from scratch’ four times in my life already and I’m not afraid to do it again.
Ferdinand: If I’m honest, I do worry a bit because I have two children who go to a private school. I have to take care of my family. If Corona has a long-term impact on us, it could burst my business dream. At 2Leadership, I finally found something I’ve been searching for a very long time. If Covid-19 thwarts all of us, which rationally I don’t believe, I would definitely position myself again professionally.
4. How did you adapt to a situation over which you had no influence? What was that process like for you?
Ferdinand: For me the change was significant. I only just started something new at the end of last year. During Lockdown I did a lot of things that were not easy for me, such as socializing, networking – I switched my strategy completely online – that wasn’t part of my plan. However, it’s working quite well and I’m looking forward to combining the two worlds when things really get going again. However, I’ve noticed that I’m getting impatient. What we offer is exactly what companies need right now.
Heike: For me there wasn’t really a change externally, it was more internal. I just had to get used to the fact that this danger exists. But I’m also very aware that I can’t change it, so I quickly got used to the situation.
5. Where do you think we stand as a society and how has this influenced us?
Ferdinand: We saw dolphins in the harbour for the first time. Nature breathed again and that’s fantastic to see; I think that changes us as a society. Our perspective changes on things that we have been discussing for years. As a family we live very near Lisbon and all of a sudden so many small changes happened. Bus rides are now free and parking incredibly expensive … I don’t think that’s a bad change.
Heike: I’m a bit divided. We have an apartment near Split where you could hear planes all the time. Recently it’s been completely quiet. Nature breathed a sigh of relief and I would like us to reflect and continue in this direction, but I don’t think we will. Corona has given us food for thought that I think we should use better. For instance, if I look at how the automotive industry is being propped up without really taking the opportunity to think about alternatives, I worry about where we’ll end up.
6. Have you factored in the impact of a crisis on your business and financial plans?
Heike: That’s a good question! When I heard how much the German government is ready to invest, it was a huge trigger for me. I think it’s crazy, but I take my hat off to them, even if the fact that it’s necessary is incomprehensible for me. I don’t understand how companies can keep going with so little free cash flow and expect the government to bail them out in difficult times. You have to think differently. Was I prepared? No. I didn’t expect it. Can I make ends meet for the foreseeable future? Yes absolutely. It’s my responsibility to make sure of that.
Ferdinand: It’s different in Portugal. The crisis here was even worse in 2011/12, and we came out of it with a lot of discipline. If you earn more than EUR 1,800 per month here, the State relieves you of 70% in taxes. So, in a crisis, the State has to intervene, which is justified with such a high tax burden on the citizens. In Portugal we were just coming out of crisis recovery and getting started again. It feels like there’s a crisis every 8 years, you have to learn from it, and you have to prepare.
7. How did this sudden disruption affect you and how will you recover from it?
Ferdinand: First thing I did was review my budget. I realized that I would lose three months of money. I worry about if and when things will start again, which I can’t plan for. I’m not worried about what we can offer – what we have is really good – but I worry about the what and when.
Heike: Being employed I have a salary, even if that has been reduced to the short-time work allowance. I have a second pillar with my husband’s pension, so that covers our daily necessities. We also have a garden and make a lot ourselves. My own business ‘Act the Change’ is running at zero and we had a lot of cancellations for our holiday apartments, which meant I had to repay deposits. On the other hand, we’ve already had reservations for next year. But we’ve had more time for ourselves after so many years of working really hard, and that’s the advantage of having multiple pillars: if you have several, you can get by.
8. What do you take with you from the spring of Covid-19 for your professional life?
Ferdinand: I noticed that much of my happiness in life lies at home. I also noticed who was left in such a situation. We also got to know new friends. For my daughter, this was made extremely clear by a health incident. Suddenly some people ask how things are and you see who is really there. You get back to the essentials. I’m considering selling my car because we don’t need two. I’m just noticing that there are no more excuses in many areas. Maybe we’ve gained new courage and are finally doing what we always wanted to do.
Heike: I also think that this kind of experience make us more courageous. I always paid attention to ‘looking good’ virtually. Now the lines blurred and there was a stronger ‘blend’ between private and professional. We’ve now realized that such a virus can appear anywhere and at any time. What can you learn from it? Enjoy every day with the people you care about and do what you enjoy …
Ferdinand: … or if it’s something you have to do that you don’t enjoy, do it quickly. With me there is no longer a distinction between the individual things. It’s just life.
Heike: It has to be fun! The blend I have now is excellent for me, I don’t have to pretend. Perhaps this is also our take-away as a society: we can shape our lives and remain true to ourselves.