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The power of leadership in a crisis

Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb

Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb

By Raikishori Ganguly

The concept of crisis is not something new to businesses. Studies show that businesses are very familiar with crises of certain types and they have a set mechanism to tackle them. The present pandemic, however, is a crisis of unprecedented scale affecting every aspect of business and life in general – something that no one experienced in the past century. The disruptions caused havoc in businesses, putting leadership on the global center-stage.

In turbulent times people look up to their leaders for clarity and assurance. Crises are the times when leaders have to lead from the front with courage and determination, show the way even if they are unsure themselves. While there are many expert suggestions, advice and guidelines for leaders, finally it is upon the individual actions of each leader that defines new ways of leadership.

Communication has become a key element of tackling the pandemic crisis. Especially for investors and customers it is very important to know the accurate updates. Frequent communication with clients, investors and employees with complete transparency is helping leaders address the trust issues that are inevitable. Expounding on this front at The Economic Times Global Business Summit, Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb said:

“In times of uncertainty, the first thing you should do is increase communication… make sure everyone knows what is going on. Secondly, it is really important at a time of change to tell a story of how you are making decisions, what your principles are and just really reminding people about the fundamentals of the company – what was true and always will be true regardless of the crisis.”

Airbnb is essentially a hospitality business – a sector that was completely shut off by the pandemic led lockdowns and travel bans. The company went through a large-scale restructuring, where many employees were laid off. In the post pandemic world, many companies had to take similar steps. Chesky opened up about how they navigated through this crisis at Air BNB:

“One of the hardest things that any CEO ever has to do is lay off a portion of their workforce. It was certainly one the most difficult decisions I ever had to take… I think people expect their leaders to have to make hard decisions, but they want to know that they will do that with compassion and heart.

We didn’t want to go by a playbook, we wanted to do that as personally as one could during a pandemic… So, we had a series of principles.

  • We decided to do only one lay-off, unfortunately, it meant having to cut deep enough so that our future is secure, and people will not have to worry about a second layoff happening.
  • The cuts we made had to be mapped to the business we anticipate having in the future.
  • We wanted to do as much as we could for impacted employees, so we tried to be generous.
  • We made sure that the communication was as humane, heartfelt and personal as possible.
  • We did a couple of unique things to help the laid off employees find another job.

We turned a portion of our recruitment team into a placement team and also created an alumni directory so that other recruiters could contact them. The directory ended up getting more than half a million visits, and all this didn’t cost anything for the company.”

It has been emphasized time and again by all leadership mentors that to win over this pandemic, leaders must be compassionate and humane. With so much changing so fast, some hard decisions would need to be taken but how they are executed will make all the difference. Leaders hold a position of power, but true leaders use that power to empower others while keeping the future and values of the business in the core of all decisions.

Courtesy: etinsights.et-edge.com

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