Leadership in Uncertain Times, Part II: Advice From the Chicago Tech Scene

March 24, 2020
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While Chicago techies are busy setting up home offices, completing work projects, wrangling stuck-at-home children, washing hands and surfaces, and checking in on loved ones, we’re also watching the news — and lately, it hasn’t been great.

There’s no workshop, book or TED Talk that teaches the skills needed to lead in the time of a pandemic. Chicago’s tech leaders have been figuring things out as they go, relying on their teams, professional networks and families for support — and trusting their gut when tough calls need to be made.

In Part II of our ongoing series on corporate leadership during trying times, we spoke with executives and team heads at five local tech companies about how they’re preparing themselves and their teams for whatever awaits us.

 

 

Andrew Vaughan
Vice President of Engineering

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

It seems daunting, but there are opportunities for growth for individuals and teams in any area of uncertainty. With the right direction, uncertainty can empower people to enact positive change. 

As a leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that people have all the support they need to try new things and think outside the box. We are lucky enough to have a diverse set of contributors and leaders, some of whom came from environments where remote work, distributed management and geographically distant teams were the status quo. We look to those individuals — regardless of seniority — to help lead efforts to drive change that will not only keep us whole, but possibly result in improvements we might have been blind to in our normal environment. In any uncertainty, lead your teams to embrace unknowns, and take leaps of faith your teams may not have been able to before. You might be surprised.

 

Molly Rudberg
Chief People Officer

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

We are fortunate that almost all of our employees can do their jobs and continue to support our community from home. Our first priority has been the safety and well-being of our employees, and we’ve worked hard to ensure that they have everything that they need — from computer screens to health and wellness resources — and that lines of communication are open. We’re also holding weekly virtual “office hours” where employees can voice concerns and ideas to our CEO. Our last virtual office hours sparked a conversation about ways we can support working musicians who’ve had to cancel tours and lose crucial income during this time, and a team is working to bring those ideas to life as we speak.

Since business owners, musicians and more rely on Reverb to support their families, our team is focusing their energy and attention on ensuring that our customers have everything that they need to continue selling and buying musical gear. Focusing on the bigger picture and how our work is helping our community during this challenging time is keeping the team motivated — that, plus virtual jam sessions and shared “Work from Home” Spotify playlists!

 

Beth Clutterbuck
Chief Human Resources Officer

Chicago is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large?

Generally, I think the tech industry is setting an excellent precedent for how companies can band together to provide creative solutions to help manage work and business continuity during crises. We’ve recently seen some of the major players in tech work jointly on COVID-19 response efforts to combat fraud and misinformation. It’s important that the tech community continues to collaborate on how we can amass our resources and ideas to help manage global crises like COVID-19.

This is unchartered territory for everyone, and it’s especially important for people in leadership positions to understand and acknowledge they may not always have an immediate, concrete answer to some questions — and that’s okay. This is a time where we all need to lean on each other for support and come together collectively to navigate adjusting to this new (hopefully temporary) norm.

 

Roman Dzadzic
Vice President of Product Management

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

I lived in what was then Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 90s. It was a time of great crisis and uncertainty, and I learned pretty fast how that can bring about certain levels of fear and mass hysteria. Regardless of the situation, I’m trying to stay in tune with the whispers and be on the lookout for signs of panic in an effort to prevent, educate and calm. Leaders have a key role in crises to observe, think ahead, adapt and be flexible in our approach, uniquely respond to each situation without applying one-size-fits-all solutions and stay positive while maintaining honesty and transparency in communication. Easier said than done, for sure, and it all takes a lot of work — but it is a part of the job description.

 

Gary Hallgren
President

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

Certainly in this current situation, we are all looking towards the CDC and our governments. But I also look to those that have managed through crisis before. Whether that is from the tech industry or other industries small and large, there is always something to learn from how others managed through challenging situations.

We will get through this! As a country and society we’ve dealt with challenging situations before and we’ll do it again. What’s important to realize is that we’re in this together and all need to help each other manage through it, understanding it’s going to impact us very differently. I urge my team to try and not let the news preoccupy their time. Double down and prioritize important work things, and really focus to get them done — just as on any normal day. But then don’t forget the personal side of this issue as well. Focus on you and your family, ensure that you give yourself the space mentally and emotionally to support yourself and those around you through this. 

 

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