Nathan Tanner

Lessons From Zoom: How to Lead During a Company Crisis

This is a guest post by Derek Pando, the founder and CEO of Beeloo, whose mission is to give parents of young kids daily alternatives to screen time through printable crafts and activities.

It has been hard to look away with all the drama happening at Twitter the last few months. It is obvious that they have been in a full blown crisis now for months. I feel for Twitter employees and especially for all the leaders trying to help their teams while dealing with their own personal reactions to the difficulties at work. 

I know a little bit about what an ongoing crisis at work can feel like. I led international marketing at Zoom when the pandemic hit. From the outside, while it might have seemed that the pandemic was the best thing that could ever happen to Zoom, the pendulum always swings both ways. The attention and scrutiny from Zoom’s astronomical growth brought on many crises about privacy, security, relations with China and many more that threatened the company’s existence. 

At Zoom, we were lucky enough to have strong leaders. I watched, emulated and got advice from them as I tried to lead my own team through multiple back to back crises.

If you find yourself as a leader at work during a crisis, here are some of the things I learned that hopefully can serve as a cheat sheet for you on how to lead in a crisis. 

Be authentic. I remember Eric Yuan, Zoom’s CEO, addressing the company at an all-hands meeting one week when there were 100’s of negative headlines around the world about Zoom and acknowledging how difficult it was for him and the rest of the company. He did not try to act tough, ignore it or do anything other than express his authentic feelings. 

Empathy first. A company crisis can have cascading effects. It can impact an employee’s mental or physical health, their family situation or their financial situation. A crisis might also cause a dangerously high workload for employees. It’s best to always first take a breath before diving into what needs to be done  with your team to empathize with each employee as a human being, even when you’re in emergency mode. 

Help your team see beyond the job. At Zoom the crisis was so intense that one of my teammates was having severe stomach pains that were brought on by anxiety. I remember at one point he came to me a mess and I told him. “Listen, no matter what happens at Zoom, you will be successful and your future is bright.” He was young and early in his career, he was having trouble not projecting this moment onto his entire life. Sometimes as leaders at work, we have to help employees see beyond work. 

Be candid. This is tough as a leader as there might be sensitive topics, or you might be getting guidance from your company not to talk about certain issues. My advice is to use your personal judgment and push the limits to the side of candor. Most companies unfortunately will over index on trying to control too much information in a crisis, even when they have no actual chance of containing it among employees. Sharing as much as you can will build trust with your employees and help them feel confident that you are looking out for them.

If you’re in a crisis right now remember as difficult as it may be, this is a time to learn and grow as a leader. As the saying goes “smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. Hang in there. You’ll make it through it and you’ll probably come out the other side a better leader.