The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, has found that empathy, analysis and flexibility are fundamental leadership traits for navigating this crisis and beyond.
When members or colleagues ask me, “How has managing this pandemic affected you,” I always have the same response. “CV-19 has made me a better leader and person, but not a better businessman,” I say.
Perhaps to some they might feel this pandemic would only challenge my business organization, customer service communications, or strategic financial planning.
Interestingly, long before those skills took focus it was my empathy, flexibility to emotional change, and control of my ego which took center stage in my mind. Often finding myself apologizing to staff or members for not having the answers or hosting continuously an empathic acknowledgment of their fears during this entire period of indecision. I simply didn’t have the answers they might have expected from their General Manager.
Frequently during this challenging schedule of unfolding events, I began observing that people’s health and wellness is much like politics or religion. While beliefs can be shared, individual interpretations or personalized applications are separate, leaving their needs and wants to be internalized.
Like many clubs, the age of our membership sits directly in the COVID-19 challenged sector, giving our members reason for concern as it relates to the pandemic. Add to this our downtown club location, limited outside gathering space, and conservative meeting rooms stacked on top of each other in high rise fashion and you have an environment giving some members pause before returning.
Often before rejoining the club’s activities our members have a long list of questions, concerns, and viewpoints causing me to review each request or comment individually with tremendous empathy. Having not walked in their shoes, sat with their families, or visited their doctor’s offices I have no idea where the questions originate and how worried they are with our processes and procedures.
In my years of hospitality, the member’s questions usually focused around the speed of service, dietary needs or wants, or maybe temperature or noise levels of the dining spaces.
These questions are simple in context to the invisible “feeling” people are searching for which is intimidating and challenging today. These new questions cause me to anticipate and or view their perception of how someone might feel about protection and safety.
These new questions have made me reflect, change direction, and place my ego in check on numerous occasions, hoping to have the right answer or suggestion for their potential needs.
When recently planning actions for re-opening the club, often our first planned option became a second option and the fourth option turned into the executed plan. These changes or perceptions came even before the CDC, City, or State rolled out their plans. So, in truth, our fifth or sixth option became the final implemented program.
As a former Chef, and experienced manager I mentored myself after those who placed a stick in the ground and moved past obstacles of time, cost or commitment for the greater good of the customer’s high expectations. Changing directions or being indecisive seems strange now.
But honestly, in my maturity, change, indecision through evaluation of the changing landscape, data or information, and analysis is the core to sound leadership. No great leader makes the first correct decision or direction, without measurement of consistent changing “winds,” articles of understanding, or simply evaluating what is best for the team.
This flexibility was never more evident than with the staff’s approach and needs to this pandemic. With a core of sixteen leaders in tow, each one had their views or beliefs of how this would impact them and their teams or departments. All valuable and necessary to support the team goals of excellence and wellbeing.
Our new plan to re-open the club was certainly not a one shoe fits all approach, even when the Union Club’s mission, brand standards, and employee core beliefs are clearly printed on our club’s credo card.
This new opening plan had to include many considerations for personal interpretation, the empathy of the team members, and simply the care for another human being. This process was distilled in seeking an understanding and achieving a partnership for the betterment of the organization.
My favorite quote has always been, “I seek your greatest good, I mean you no harm.” I recited this to myself numerous times while wavering in the wind, searching for the right direction for all.
After weeks of planning, daily meetings on zoom, and countless opening plan revisions we opened the club with ninety-five percent of the employees and ninety percent of the membership intact.
Now after two weeks the club is still terribly slow, with numerous canceled catering events for the foreseeable future. I relate to business as a better person and leader for learning something about myself and my team during this horrific world event. Would I want to do it again? No way, but then again, most challenges come out of nowhere, over time dissolving into the past with the lessons enriching our wisdom.