Leadership in a Time of Coronavirus

As the world watches and responds to the spread of COVID-19, leaders across the globe are being asked to step up and into their power. Some have done this well, while others have a few more miles to cross. 

For industry leaders, this is the time to ask and determine how to become the best leader for your company.

For myself, as a lifelong and collegiate-level athlete, I am reminded of the lessons in leadership taught to me by coaches, my family, and professional mentors. These lessons are tied into everything I do on a daily basis, especially now as I continue to lead DeliverThat’s mission as a third-party delivery service for restaurant catering. While foodservice operators are responding operationally to the coronavirus outbreak, an equal number also are asking "What now?" It’s the same question I had when a sports injury derailed my professional athletic career; however, I was able to answer that question for myself — and brands can do this, too — based on three key shifts in perspective. 

No. 1: Trust the Process 

In terms of leadership, it can be difficult at times to trust the process during times of change, especially as it relates to circumstances outside of human control. However, operators must continue to trust in and work the process as consumer behavior and sentiment shifts. This is true regardless of the circumstances shifting this behavior and thought. 

Everything happens to promote change and we are seeing changes reflected in the market now to actually make brands better. Because of the coronavirus, restaurant concepts such as Darden are offering paid time off, and while Chipotle has already taken this step due to a former E. coli outbreak, it is highlighting the positive steps the brand has taken post outbreak. 

At times, as leaders, all we can do is trust the process while leading our concepts to greater success. Yes, the industry is taking a temporary hit as consumers are choosing to eat at home; however, once the global community re-emerges, sales will lift and brands will once again be there to serve their customers. 

No. 2: Practice Adaptability

This requires a shift in focus. As consumers opt to stay home, brands are facing an opportunity to shift their focus to takeout and delivery, and even catering. While catering is expected to decline during this period, there are opportunities in other areas to build sales. Operators that focus on meeting their customers needs’ in terms of takeout and delivery options, will likely experience some success. 

While third-party delivery services also are expected to scale back during this period, most companies are providing their drivers with best practices in terms of making deliveries. This includes communicating to their teams the precautions highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control. Drivers should be following these procedures accurately in order to better protect themselves, the restaurant brands for whom they work and their customers. 

Adaptability is a key characteristic during times of constant change. And once adjustments are made, everyone can adapt to the new operational structures put in place. This is done by trusting the process and adapting to change. 

No. 3: Go From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

This can be an easy or difficult thing for restaurant leaders to practice, especially when dealing with operational environments currently subject to so much change. But just like in sports and athletics, have a vision, stick to it, trust the process and make adjustments when change does arise. 

When the coronavirus started to impact the industry, and definitely our business, we used the time to communicate best practices and procedures to our fleet of contract drivers. Meanwhile, we worked with our restaurant and third-party service providers to ensure we were following their best practices and procedures as well. We did this because we knew where we were, and we also knew where we wanted to be. For us, this is a time to educate our drivers on best practices and to focus on internal operations and processes. This is so we can continue to be the best service provider for our drivers and partners. We know that it is important to help protect our partners’ direct to consumer business and so we are taking the necessary measures required to get to where we want to be. 

For industry leaders, this is the time to ask and determine how to become the best leader for your company. It doesn’t matter if you have one location or 1,000, as the entire industry is being impacted. 

For me personally, this means turning a negative into a positive. I respond best to people telling me I can’t do something. In fact, that’s what attracted me to sales. But when they say, “I can’t,” my response is typically, ‘”OK, we’ll see” and then I turn it into a victory. 

The same theory can apply to restaurant operators surviving through current market conditions. Disposables are in short supply, consumers are staying home and even some ingredients are difficult to stock. However, there are ways to reduce labor, save costs and continue to operate, if only on a lighter schedule. And if someone says you can’t, show them you can.