Archives March 2020

COVID Leadership Questions #1 – How do I lay people off & conduct performance management?

Recently a community of leaders discussed leadership and management issues they are facing during the COVID crisis.

Two questions came up, and we discussed best practises on how to:

  • Manage laying people off during COVID?
  • Provide employee performance management while people are working from home during COVID?

The answers to the discussion are below …

How does a leader manage laying people off during COVID?

First, as a leader, you should not deal with a layoff situation in the same way you would normally. In my experience, a ‘normal’ layoff is usually done in a clinical, and often a cold-hearted way.

People are called into a room and told that they are being laid off; concurrently, their IT, phone and building access is shut off. They are escorted back to their office to gather up their personal effects and then out the door.

We’ve all heard layoff horror stories with people left sitting on the curb with a banker’s box of stuff waiting for a ride home, or their building access is shut off before they are advised of what is happening.

To state the obvious, COVID is a different circumstance. People are being laid off due to events entirely outside of their and their employer’s control.

Read how you can do terrible things to good people.

So this would be my recommendations:

1. Keep the whole team advised that layoffs are likely inevitable. You people are not stupid and will be expecting bad news, and if you don’t talk to them frankly and honestly, they will assume the worse and make up a story that is a billion times worse than the real situation.

2. If you are considering a limited layoff, ask your team how to handle it. Maybe some people may choose to be laid off, some might choose reduced hours, or some may want to burn off vacation & lieu time.

3. If layoffs are the only option, be exceedingly human. If the number is small, then have one-on-one conversations. If it is a large number of employees, set up videoconferencing or bring people together in one place (of course respecting social distancing)

4. The CEO, Executive Director, or the most senior person, should be the one delivering the news.

5. Ensure you have as much information and even assistance available so people can apply for federal, state or provincial COVID financial supports (like EI/UI)

6. Allow people to grieve and share before the layoff takes effect.

7. And finally, How can you keep the laid-off people connected to you, the company and their coworkers? Consider video social events, like Zoom Happy hours, where everyone can, if they choose, join in and stay connected. Or, maintain e-newsletters to the laid-off people, so they hear what is going on.


How does a leader provide employee performance management while people are working from home during COVID?

1. Unless an employee is just bad, dishonest or breaking company rules, most performance issues are rooted in the leader failing to set expectations upfront and early.

Read more about leading when authority is limited

  1. If you have employees working remotely and from home, make sure they clearly understand what you expect.

Of course, you need to be reasonable to the current circumstances. But it is not unreasonable for employees to meet deadlines, do good work and be available for team calls and videoconferencing.

You are still paying them regardless of where they are working.

  1. If someone is not performing to your expectations, then you can follow this framework for sensitive conversations using the 4 F’s:
    • First: When you make the appointment, say that you want to have a conversation that will be valuable to your working relationship
    • Facts: Begin the meeting by retelling what happened for each of you
    • Feelings: Tell the impact that the meeting had on you
    • Future: Help each other figure out what you could do differently and what can be done by everybody to address the situation
Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

I often work with people who are transitioning from follower to leader.

The question always arises is: What characteristic makes a good leader?

I tell them the answer is moral courage. 

I realized I was never as concerned about my boss’s technical expertise as I was about their moral courage, honesty, and ethics.

Coincidentally, Abacus Data shared the results of a poll examining Canadians opinions of the leadership, answering the question by saying:

“Leadership can be hard to define – but … people … know what they like when they see it. We gave respondents a forced-choice question about what was most important to them in supporting a … leader. By a considerable margin, “values” (42%) were identified as the top quality to look for, followed by judgment (29%). “Ideas” (15%) and “attitude” (13%) were well back in consideration.

What Matters Most in a Leader?

For me, values and judgment add up to Moral Courage. Historically, courage hasn’t been recognized as an essential attribute for business leaders.

This is changing.

Future leaders will need the ability to act courageously.

Without question, innovation is needed in “for’ and ‘not for’ profit businesses, but courage makes change possible. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Rosabeth Moss Kantor wrote:” moral courage enables people to stand up for principle rather than stand on the sidelines.” 

What is Moral Courage in Leadership?

Courage in leadership is doing what’s right despite being afraid of risking negative repercussions.

Fear is the most common reason people give when they avoid being courageous. Think about how you feel when you watch a leader who demonstrates personal courage. Most likely, you will trust that leader more.

Courage comes from being very clear about essential values and working to achieve goals that are consistent with those values.

Ultimately, every leader has the choice to either lead with courage or lead without it.

Examples of Courageous Leadership Behaviours

  1. Moral courage & humility when providing honest feedback in conversations and discussions or managing your supervisors or boards
  2. Allowing alternative & opposing viewpoints to be shared with the rest of the team.
  3. Speaking up rather than being compliant in silence.
  4. Leading through change & not settling for “we have always done it this way.”
  5. Taking ownership when you are in uncharted territory, and the safe path is to do nothing.

How are you, or your organization, doing at removing the barriers to morally courageous behaviour? Try this simple exercise here to find out. 

Developing Moral Courage

  1. Be very clear about your vision and values.
  2. Scripting in advance what to say.
  3. Anticipate those who will disagree.
  4. Be honest in admitting when you have made a mistake or taken a wrong path.
  5. Be willing to entertain new ideas and change your assumptions.

Courage is a learned skill, and we all can be courageous. Being brave means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks.

As we invest in the future and emerging leaders, isn’t it better to learn values, judgment, and moral courage in a SYSTEMATIC and PURPOSEFUL way instead of allowing them to muddle through?

Do you think fear is driving your leadership actions? Here are 7 questions to prevent fear of leadership failure. 

If you’re interested in going more profound or moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

How One Word Can Damage Workplace Culture

9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)

The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on January 5, 2015, and has been updated.

The Beast, Fort McMurray & Leadership: 5 Actions You Need To Lead

On May 5th, 2016, a wildfire tore through Fort McMurray with a ferocity so intense the fire was nicknamed the ‘Beast.’ Hundreds of firefighters, police and heavy equipment operators fought a running battle with a formidable foe to save the City. In the end, 80,000 people were evacuated, and 2,400 structures were incinerated.

A leadership responsibility that was once unimaginable was suddenly real.

Responsibility without authority is one of the worst situations any leader can face, and natural disasters are the epitome of responsibility without authority. In a case such as this, someone has full responsibility to lead, but the authority belongs to Mother Nature. In the Fort McMurray Wildfire Operations Centre, people who had the moral, ethical and responsibility to protect their community, but zero authority to impact what the ‘Beast’ would do.

What were my takeaways?

I had the privilege of working with and watching these people put herculean efforts into evacuating the residents, protecting their community; and, then planning how to get 80,000 people home.

What can you use to lead with confidence when authority is entirely outside of your control?

Here are five suggestions:

1. Own the problem. Like it or not, the problem is yours, so step up to the plate. Nobody asked for the fire, but they had to deal with it. That means you must publicly and privately embody the handling of the crisis and recovery.

In the days following the battle to save Fort McMurray, the Fire Chief made an emotional public statement to say that this had been the worst days of his professional life, but that the community would recover.

2. Intervene early and often. You must rely on your team, but if they fail to meet the mark, you and your organization are at risk. Insert yourself into the process, pepper managers with questions, exercise your good judgment, make changes to plans if needed, and make sure they know that you are on top of the situation.

Click to read about micromanagement.

During the response, the Operations Director challenged plans relentlessly for validity and that they were the best work that could be done. This is precisely the time when measured micromanagement is required.

3. Become the face and voice of leadership. Make sure to communicate relentlessly and honestly to your people throughout the event. The reassurance of seeing a leader, taking things firmly in hand, cannot be overemphasized.

During the fire, the Premier took a steady hand on the leadership. While she relied on her experts to provide technical briefings, she communicated clearly that the Province was in charge; the situation was perilous; people were to evacuate; and, everything was being done to tame the Beast and get people home.

4. Mind your messages. Think through your messaging carefully and ensure your leadership team reinforces and complements what. Urge prudent behaviour. Never blame once the crisis hits, even if someone failed to follow your advice. Be there to reassure, to solve, to support, but never to chastise or to leave folks to their own devices.

Throughout the fires, all levels of government and non-governmental organizations spoke with one voice and message. There were few, if any, missteps. This was vital to provide confidence and clear, unambiguous messages to the evacuees.

5. Show humanity. In the same vein, it is up to the leader to show not only strength and impact but also compassion and kindness. Tell stories, honour heroes to encourage people to help one another, and then reward them for it.