Connecting in Crisis: Leading amid a global pandemic

By Chelsea Stebner

I want to talk to you about leading in crisis—what it means to me, and what I am struggling with.

I am not seeking sympathy. I want to have a real conversation because I think many leaders—in all industries—are struggling right now.

It can feel daunting that we’re supposed to know exactly what to do. In fact, I’m often sat here thinking, “who put me in charge of this?” or “am I capable of this?” There are immeasurable feelings of doubt to work out how to squash.

If you know me, or if read anything I’ve written recently, you’ll know that I’m a touchy-feely person. I’m a hugger. Human connection drives me. I am a leader that practices heart-centred leadership—but what does that mean in a global crisis?

To me—today and for the foreseeable future—it means vulnerability, character and authenticity. It means not being afraid—but also being afraid and saying that out loud. It means sitting down and just listening, being open to hearing others—this is when I need to ensure that my door is off its hinges on that open-door policy. Now more than ever, your team needs you to listen to them talk about their fears and the unknown. They need to know you’re hustling to find the answers and strategize for their futures.

It means setting aside the material goals of your business and stepping into the true opportunity that we have—to really walk the walk. This is when your vision really shines.

When ‘making a difference’ is our vision in my business and in life, it means making tough decisions, having crucial and difficult conversations, issuing lay-offs, sharing ideas and figuring out how—in a vast world of unknowns right now—to lead, survive and, hopefully, thrive in this unprecedented time. At our shop, we have 68 years under our belts, and I need to ensure that we have at least that many more to look forward to.

If we’re in the same industry and you’re getting many of the same messages, you’ll understand what I mean when I say the information coming at us is overwhelming. Each morning I open my email to at least five messages about how someone can help me—and I’m sure they can. But it’s a lot. I’m learning to pick and choose how much information I can take in per day.

Do you have a crisis vision statement? I heard that the other day. At our business, we do. From the start of this mess, our mantra has been to ‘do the next right thing.’ We have to react quickly as what’s being thrown at us in this moment—it changes almost as quickly as a teenage girl changes her outfit. But that still means checking ourselves—listening to our gut and understanding that we better decide, because no decision is truly a decision as well. And do you want to have someone else decide for you?

Not only are we responsible for our business—we have families counting on us, and a community that we support by living and working in it.  Now is not the time to stop giving or stop doing for your community.

If you’re still operating, if you’re allowed to still operate—are you taking every precaution you can think of and more? What are the repercussions if you’re not heeding the directives from our governments?

What is driving you right now?  I hope it has nothing to do with profit. Yes, earning dollars is still important—to be sustainable for ourselves, our team and our community. For this industry, the driver is the people. Without people, without a team, without stakeholders, our business will cease to exist.

For me, that’s heart-centred leadership.

Chelsea Stebner is the co-owner and operator of Parr Auto Body, a facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and a member of the CCIF Steering Committee. She can be reached at chelsea@parrautobody.com.


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