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How to Effectively Lead in a Crisis with Trenton Truitt (Apollo GraphQL)

July 13, 2020
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COVID-19 has affected our work lives in numerous ways. Adjusting to the realities of working from home is hard. Many have been tasked with replicating a workplace environment over video meetings, managing different time zones, and taking care of their families on top of everything. And there is always the fear of an economic collapse looming in the background.

Despite all of these changes, one thing remains constant: the need for leadership. In times of uncertainty, especially, we look to each other for guidance and support. But there is no guideline for being a role model during a global pandemic. During this unprecedented time we must rely on our ability to adapt, be quick on our feet, and most importantly, practice empathy.

With that in mind, we recently held a Virtual Roundtable with several Bowery portfolio companies and Trenton Truitt, Chief Sales Officer at Apollo GraphQL, to talk about how to effectively lead in a crisis. Here are some of the main takeaways from the conversation:

1. Be transparent with your team

Employees aren’t just worried about the macro economics of the pandemic, they’re also concerned about losing their jobs, having to possibly lay people off, the health of their family, their team, etc. It’s important to be open with them about what potential outcomes may be in store for the future of the company. As an idea for transparency, sharing the recent board deck with the employees, so they know what issues are being discussed and what challenges the company is facing.

2. It is okay to express uncertainty

This pandemic has provided us with an unprecedented reality, and it would be impossible to make definitive assumptions about what the future holds. It is better to admit that there are things you cannot control and focus instead on the ways in which you can proactively prepare for potential outcomes, even if they might not be ideal. Stay humble and stay hungry for information.

3. Utilize partnerships

In addition to bringing more hands on deck, partnerships are great for inspiring creativity and fostering growth. In times like these, it can be helpful to take a new approach and strategize with other talented professionals who can help draw out innovative ideas. If your company is less well-known, partnerships can also help elevate your credibility and build trust.

4. Communication is key

This is such an important time to establish an open line of dialogue not only with your employees, but with your clients. The effects of the COVID-19 crisis are not going to reverse overnight, so understanding how you can cater your product to the needs of your clients is essential. Look to see how short-term messaging and positioning tweaks can translate into long-term opportunities.

5. Keep a fluid definition of success

During a normal sales cycle, you might focus your assessment of success on closed deals, and allocate bonuses accordingly. But in the time of COVID-19, it might be beneficial to look at the process more holistically. Think about incorporating compensation for little successes they may have achieved along the way, even if it hasn’t amounted to a final sale yet. As an example, comp the team on selling POC’s (Proof of Concepts), which may not be the norm for a SaaS business, but these can lead to larger wins for you and the client. This will boost team morale, retain your top sellers, and align sales compensation with company goals.

6. Have empathy

It is important to place yourself in your employees’ shoes. Listen to your team. They understand the deep details of the business and their perspective, while you might not agree with it, is very valuable. They are looking to you as a leader, and you may be forced to make difficult decisions. Accept that responsibility and utilize your ability to act quickly and make fast decisions in this rapidly evolving time. But always have your team in mind and be open with them through every step of the process.

One lesson Trenton learned from Stan Slap was to “be human first” and it could not be more true in today’s headwinds.

Being a leader during a chaotic time isn’t just a brave face. Making mistakes is inevitable, and it’s more effective to strive for perseverance rather than perfection. Hopefully these suggestions will provide you with some inspiration and help you navigate the difficult task of how to lead in a crisis.

Lead in crisisBig thank-you to Trenton Truitt for engaging in this important conversation with us. Trenton brings over 20 years of sales leadership experience at companies like EMC, PagerDuty, Wizeline, and now Apollo GraphQL and has helped lead teams through the tech bust in the early 2000s as well as the financial crisis in ’08/’09.

If you liked “How to Effectively Lead in a Crisis” and want to read more content from Bowery Capital Team, check out other relevant posts from the Bowery Capital Blog. If you haven’t already, subscribe to the podcast to get all our new content each week!