Personal Finance

'There is a light at the end of this tunnel.' Teamwork guru shares how to thrive at work amid coronavirus crisis

Key Points
  • The coronavirus pandemic has left many businesses struggling to survive and teams displaced amid quarantine order.
  • But leadership expert, speaker and author Simon Sinek said it's an opportunity to build stronger social connections and ideas that can transform your business.
  • Here are his tips for how to get started.
Author Simon Sinek speaks on stage during the Massachusetts Conference For Women 2019 in Boston on Dec. 12, 2019.
Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women 2019

Leadership expert and author Simon Sinek also prefers to include another title alongside his name: optimist.

Sinek's books include titles like, "Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team" and "Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't."

Those may sound like impossible missions amid a coronavirus pandemic that has left many businesses scrambling to survive, and many teams displaced amid quarantine orders.

But this unprecedented time is an opportunity for the leaders and team members who decide to use it wisely, Sinek said.

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That does not mean it won't be difficult. Workers will have to adapt to new roles and businesses will have to change, and sometimes overhaul, their models. But if they accept the challenge, they will be better off, Sinek predicts.

"There is a light at the end of this tunnel, " Sinek said. "This will end.

"We want to mitigate the damage that is done until we get to that light," he added. "But at the end of the day, we can rebuild our trains, so by the time we come out of this tunnel, this train is even better than when it went into the tunnel."

In a recent interview with CNBC, Sinek shared his tips on how leaders and all professionals can pursue that goal while working together as a team.

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Double down on empathy

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many workers are dealing with unspoken challenges. And because of that, we need to treat everyone with empathy.

"We're all battling the up-and-down roller coaster emotions of, 'I've got this, and I don't got this,'" Sinek said.

Moreover, it's difficult to know how every individual processes stress. While some people become hyper-productive, others shut down.

"We cannot start attacking, if they're struggling and their performance is struggling, that there's something wrong with them, because we just don't know," Sinek said.

Instead, the best approach is to double down on empathy.

"When people feel that somebody actually cares about them as a human being, they will be inspired," Sinek said.

A Zoom call.

Keep up with your office social habits

While you may be displaced from your physical office, that shouldn't stop you from still doing the social things that make offices great.

Have lunch or coffee with your colleagues or friends like you used to via video chat.

"The social stuff is equally, if not more, important than just the work stuff," Sinek said. "And use the phone more than you used to.

"That human voice is really reassuring and really important."

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When it comes to meetings, just going down a checklist of what everyone is working on is not enough, Sinek said.

While those necessary meetings should still take place, you also want to make sure you're holding what Sinek calls huddle meetings either daily or weekly.

"A huddle is two things: What's on your heart and mind and let's answer a fun question and go around the room," Sinek said. "It's basically just a human connection."

Remember leadership has nothing to do with rank

If you don't feel that your team leader is setting the example you want, don't be afraid to take action yourself.

"Anyone can be the leader they wish they had," Sinek said. "If the team needs it, do it.

"Just say, 'Hey guys, I'm doing a huddle,' and invite the formal leader."

Also remember that it's never too late to brush up on your leadership skills, whether it be reading books or articles or watching TED Talks videos.

"This is the time when leaders are made," Sinek said. "People crumble or they get to it.

"And even if your education is a little bit behind, OK, you have a steeper learning curve than some," he added. "Get to it."

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Ideas can come from anywhere

Throughout history, businesses have had to either transform or perish. Just think of the video-rental stores that went out of business.

But some companies, like Nintendo, have managed to stand the test of time. The consumer electronics and video game company has actually been around for more than 100 years, Sinek said.

The company started out selling dominoes. And throughout the years, it has stayed true to its core mission — the "business of fun," according to Sinek — while adapting what that means for the times.

All businesses need to strive to adapt the same way, Sinek said.

We are all part of the solution. Ideas can come from anywhere.
Simon Sinek
speaker and author

One way of doing that is by encouraging all employees to think up new ways of doing things.

"We are all part of the solution," Sinek said. "Ideas can come from anywhere."

Sinek said he tells his own team members to bounce their ideas off one another and test each other with questions. Once the idea has been thought through, it can be presented in a huddle meeting.

One question Sinek said helps for idea generation: "What's the cheapest, simplest thing we can do with the highest probability of success?"

"Do that, and then once that's done, improve it," Sinek said. "And then once that's done, improve it again.

"By the end, you actually have something pretty dynamic."