Fear of the unknown can drive companies into the ground if their leaders allow it.

For me, 2020 has had more unknowns than the previous 16 years combined, except maybe the year I decided to leave a comfortable job and start Altitude. Over the holiday weekend, a friend asked how things were going and was surprised at my very positive response. He asked what I attributed the success.  

While the pain and suffering is real – particularly in the food, hospitality, entertainment and travel sectors – Altitude has be able to weather the storm so far.

We’ve subtly and strategically reinvented ourselves without wavering from our core values or mission. Through new product offerings, new processes designed to streamline and deliver even better results, and a mantra of practicing what we preach on ourselves first – our own marketing before we roll it to clients – we’ve been able to better read the shifting sands and rise above the blows that have whacked at the knees of a lot of businesses over the past seven months.

Success has come not from ignoring the unknown – but from embracing it.

Tips for Agency Leaders During a Pandemic - Featured

By using it as an opportunity to re-examine what we do, how we do it, roles, responsibilities, gaps in delivery, untapped skill sets and the clamoring of the market for new, better, more transparent solutions, we’ve been able to imagine the unknown.

It takes a small army to develop, execute and hone a digitally centric, integrated marketing strategy. And that means everyone on the team needs to be on board. Or leave. That was my very simply message to the team back in March when the proverbial shit started to hit the fan. Through it all, we’ve committed to over-communicate with our team and clients with the following guiding principles:

Tip #1: Be Factual

With our team of 25 or so hybrid- to mostly-remote, we started a Monday afternoon standup. It’s 15 minutes with everyone on the line where we provide company-wide updates on sales, finance, client happiness, process improvements and plans. The numbers tell the story of how well we are doing, what we need to keep doing, where we need to improve.

Tip #2: Be Authentic

I never sugarcoat the financial reality because I believe if everyone in the organization knows how we are doing, good or bad, it is much easier to get everyone rowing in the same direction.

While many in agency leadership positions hide the numbers, I openly share the monthly, quarterly and YTD P&L and provide updates on the balance sheet and exactly how many months of expenses we have in the bank for that proverbial “rainy day.” It gives everyone in the organization a common language, a shared frame of reference, and a true sense of comfort knowing where things stand.

Tip #3: Be Optimistic

There are two sides to every coin. Some in agency leadership positions (too many, if you ask me!) run their company by instilling fear and focusing on everything that can go wrong. Notice I said “run” their company, and not lead. A good leader doesn’t use fear to motivate because he knows it is counter-productive in the long-run. Great people will leave and good people will never rise to great if you try to motivate them with fear.

And while COVID gave us more than 19 reasons to be pessimistic, from a communication and corporate culture standpoint, we remained optimistic. We focused on and discussed our strengths and the opportunities being presented to us. We confronted our weaknesses, defined the opportunities we could tackle if we eradicated them, and moved rapidly to improve them. We nudged people to expand their skill sets and ways of doing things. And we tied these efforts back to the facts in an authentic way: how we are doing and how our clients are doing thanks to our help.

When a leader is authentic, optimism is contiguous. When team members are optimistic, they are confident. When they are confident, they do their best work. When they do their best work, clients thrive. When clients thrive, we can continue to stare down the unknown and embrace it as a motivating force for positive improvement.