5 strategies for leadership challenges with Vistage Chair Artie Isaac

Executives and CEOs face leadership challenges daily when it comes to making the right decisions to benefit their companies.

However, the challenges that leaders and business owners have faced recently have been nearly unprecedented. With the emergence of COVID-19, leaders have had to pivot their entire business models to respond to the challenges. When making any decision during this pandemic, or during any challenge you may face, it’s important to consider these strategies.

Here are five strategies and one bonus tip to help navigate these challenging times and emerge better, stronger and more trusted leaders. These strategies have been applied and proven through the originality of our Vistage members.

1. Sometimes it’s better to W.A.I.T.

When dealing with a crisis, it’s often that we want to react and take action immediately. However, as a leader, it’s important to think about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it.

Whenever you’re taking notes or thinking about what to say, write the word W.A.I.T. at the top of the page, with periods in between. W.A.I.T. stands for, “Why am I talking?” Leaders need to know why they’re talking, and they don’t talk further if they don’t need to. If it’s not helpful, don’t say it.


In every moment during a crisis or leadership challenge, a leader needs to ask themselves, Why am I talking? Why am I speaking this very word? Is it for you, or is it for me?

It is a core leadership quality to W.A.I.T. Measure your words through the filter of, “Why am I talking?”

Leadership is making decisions. Leaders make decisions in a way that builds confidence in others.

They make decisions that lead others to their own confidence in the leader and in themselves.

As we come up in the world, we focus on the content of each challenge. We become skilled at questions that are on the surface of the water, “What do I do? How do I get something done? When do I do it? Is sooner better than later?

Sometimes it’s best to focus on what you’re saying in the moment.

2. Practice self-awareness

The second leadership strategy is more personal. It’s from Dr. Srikumar Rao, who has taught a course called Creativity and Personal Mastery in business schools around the world. And what he teaches is that it’s not enough to wonder how to do something or what to do or when to do it.

More important, he says, is to ask yourself,

Who am I being?

“Who am I being and who do I want to be?”

This sounds conceptual, it’s very fundamental. Here’s how to do it.

Ask yourself, “Who am I being in this very moment, and who do I want to be? And how do I measure the gap between those two, who I am being, and who I want to be?

You can come up with the answers that are right for you. Are you inviting those you lead to come up with their own answers? Friends and managers give answers, leaders ask questions.

Leaders are self-aware of who they’re being, and how they want to be. It’s important that when you’re facing leadership challenges, you’re focused on who you’re being and asking the right questions.

3. Change your tone

A third leadership strategy for leading in challenges is to change your tone, and remember that you’re the captain of the ship. You need to speak like a captain, especially in challenges.

For background, I used to be a nervous flyer, I used to think that when there was turbulence, the plane was suddenly not flying.

I learned that plane is still flying…

It’s like a boat on the waves. It may go up and down, but the boat is still sailing.

Right now in our economy, in our health, in our macro healthcare system, we are experiencing turbulence, but we are still flying.

On the airplane, when we look out the window, we may see the lightning, immediately, the captain comes on the intercom and says, “This is your captain speaking, we’re going into some turbulence right now.”

You not only know how to do this, but you know the tone of voice.

It’s calming, it’s straightforward, it’s helpful, it’s caring.

Now, more than ever, leaders need to focus their voices. When you write and when you speak, think of the captain’s tone of voice.

One of my Vistage members, a talented CEO, whose company has been on the Inc. 5,000 several times, keeps a post-it-note, and I keep one too, on her computer monitor with these words, “This is your captain speaking.”

As a leader, you’re the captain and you need to lead your crew to safety and security.

4. Gather everything you need

The fourth strategy is to gather everything you need to sort out this COVID mess.

Surround yourself with the resources you need, a peer group, people you can test your theories against, to get candid feedback by people who don’t have an agenda, except their desire for your best outcomes.

Don’t go it alone, this isn’t the time to do that.

One of my members has said, “I can’t imagine trying to gut out this COVID mess alone. If this had happened before I joined Vistage, I would have been distressed, anxious, and I might’ve made some very bad decisions.”

5. Define the new “normal”

Many people are saying things like,

I want to get back to normal.”

I want some normalcy.”

I want to get back to it.”

We all had normal, we knew what normal was. Normal was a set of expectations that we all had.

And now, what are we doing?

We are renegotiating our expectations. If we renegotiate our expectations trying to get back to something we used to have, or trying to move forward to something we don’t have yet, then we’re not here now.

Are you pining for the return to normalcy? Are your employees and colleagues asking, “When will it be normal again?”

Now is the time to change your mindset about normal.

Here’s a strategy for changing your mindset.

Normal isn’t the way it used to be. Normal isn’t the way you envision the future. Normal is the way it is today.

You might like the way it is today, you might not, but this is normal.

Here’s a breathing exercise. Take three deep breaths to help you reset the reality in which you’re living, the new normal, the normal for now.

Breathe in thinking about all you are experiencing, “What is the world doing all around me? What is my life today? What is this experience today?

Breathe out, exhale with the idea that this is normal. “This is, right now, the way it is. This is where we are, this is who we are.”

Bonus tip: Show empathy in the future

This is a time for leaders to get over themselves, to climb off the pedestal of power.

This is the time to develop the skill of empathy. You’ve seen your employees, your teammates, your colleagues, and your boss. Now you’ve seen these people at home.

You’ve seen their children, you’ve seen their dogs, you’ve seen their living rooms. You’ve seen how your people live.

There seems to have been a time when we could ignore the realities that our people leave at home and the realities that we asked them not to bring to work.

Depending on who you are and how you are, we used to be able to say, “This is just business, and that’s just personal.

It’s time for work-life balance to be raised as a priority in our economy, and it has to start with leaders.

We need leaders to lead on this because we can’t ever again be ignorant of the challenges our employees are facing in the fullness of their lives. Remember that these leadership challenges will pass, and when it does, will each of us learn something and retain that learning during the experience?


Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Artie Isaac

A 2012 Vistage International Rookie Chair of the Year, Artie Isaac chairs six groups in central Ohio.
The 2013 Vistage International Innovation Speaker of the Year, Artie presents "Problem Solving: Creativity & Collaboration" to Vist…

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