Demonstrate your leadership

Mar 30, 2020

“It will take everything we have as leaders to get our firms and ourselves through this.”

Now is the time we are all being tested. None of us has been through anything like this before. It will take everything we have as leaders to get our firms and ourselves through however long the virus-related slowdown lasts.

Unlike most situations A/E firms could find themselves in, I won’t pretend to have the answers for this one. It’s not like a typical turnaround situation or recession that I have experienced many times in the past. This is different. It is an immediate nationwide – even worldwide – slowdown at best and a stoppage at worst.

This will test us as individuals and organizations. Here’s some of what I am thinking that I hope will be helpful to our readers:

  1. Survival is number one. We can’t achieve our purpose-driven missions or lofty visions if we aren’t in business to do so. This has to be at the forefront of every decision we make for our companies. We are all going to have to make some hard decisions. Decisions on who to lay off and who to keep. Who to pay and who not to pay. What we can cut that allows us to keep the doors open one more day because tomorrow things could be better. The sooner we come to grips with the idea that this is not going to go away in the future and it’s going to be real ugly, and make the tough decisions now with that in mind, the more likely we will be in business when it ends.
  2. Survival also includes us, as the individual owners and managers in the organizations we work in. We have to take care of ourselves and our families. That means our individual health is beyond crucial. I won’t use my space here to review the CDC guidelines for social distancing or hand washing in this article – not that I won’t keep following them long after this virus has supposedly run its course – as we are all seeing them 20 times a day from so many different sources. But beyond staying alive (which could be challenging enough for us older folks), we have to stay psychologically healthy. That means we need to eat right, rest, exercise, and we can’t be too attached to our identities and our stuff. When this ends we may not have everything we had before it started. If we are still healthy – physically and mentally – we can get all that back (if we still want it).
  3. Looking back now won’t do you any good. We can all long for the good old days and lament decisions we made or didn’t make in the past. Instead, as a leader you have to look forward. What clients need you the most now? What can you do for them that will help them survive this thing? Those and many more are the questions you need to be finding the answers to quickly if you are going to be able to make it through the current and coming storm.
  4. Just like a combat pilot will tell you, being a helpless passenger will get you killed. You can take control of your airplane. It may be damaged right now and you may not have the control over it that you normally do, but you still have the controls and it is still in the air. Fight to get that plane back to safety! Don’t allow your mind to tell you that the situation is hopeless and you can’t do anything about it. Grab those controls. Reflect on your training. Take every action you need to to land that aircraft. Don’t give up.
  5. Try to be optimistic. Sure, no one wants to go through a situation like this where we could have a third or a half of our population get a weeks-long illness and have potentially millions die, and have 20-30 percent unemployment. But we are smart. And we are resourceful. We will figure it out and emerge better and stronger in the end. And the most resourceful people will be the ones who figure out how to solve the problems of the day and make life better for everyone else. Be one of those people. Not one of those who thinks this is the end. It’s critical that you be optimistic if you are going to lead others. It doesn’t mean you are stupid, or are burying your head in the sand, but instead you CHOOSE to not give up. You can do that. You must do that.

I could go on now but won’t. My (productive) day is wrapping up and it’s time for me to mix up a stiff drink and spend some time with my fabulous wife in our beautiful home while we still have it. But you know what, our lives won’t be measured by the quantity and quality of stuff we have. They will instead be measured more so by the quality and quantity of relationships we have – and what we can accomplish in our lives.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.