The COVID-19 pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on business owners and CEOs. Corporate decisionmakers are being called to make spur-of-the-moment decisions based on incomplete and often contradictory information. In the midst of this chaos, you must remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.

COVID-19 Creates Crisis in Commercial Sectors

The novel coronavirus strain, COVID-19 started as a few sick workers in China. Now it has spread into a pandemic reaching nearly every corner of the globe. As of March 24, 2020, there were nearly 410,000 coronavirus cases worldwide, including 18,274 deaths. Closer to home, the United States is dealing with nearly 50,000 cases and 634 deaths. (This number is constantly changing. You can see the latest tallies here.)

In response to the global COVID-19 crisis, the federal government has distributed guidelines calling for “social distancing.” State governors have issued executive orders closing non-essential businesses and ordering all but the most essential workers to “stay at home”. This has created a crisis for business owners in commercial, service, and manufacturing sectors. Corporate decision makers in every industry are scrambling to decide how to respond to the orders while maintaining their business and paying their employees. Will they be forced to close and lay off their workers? Or will they be able to pivot, allowing employees to work remotely or offering different services to suit the nation’s suddenly changing needs?

Business Owners: Put Your Own Mask on First, Before Helping Others

During this time of world-wide crisis, our stripes become visible. If we do not take care of ourselves, we will be physically or emotionally unable to be sensitive to those around us. All forms of crises have two components: the emotional and the practical. The COVID-19 crisis adds a real risk to physical health. Our own stresses and strains will close us off from listening and considering the needs of others. If business owners don’t start by focusing on their own needs, they will find themselves unable to make empathetic and strategically sound decisions for their employees and business associates.

Making Healthy Self-Care a Priority

We don’t have a word for healthy self-care in English. “Selfish” has strong negative connotations, suggesting that a person is greedy, “piggish” or unsympathetic. But responding to the COVID-19 crisis requires us to make our own self-care a priority. If we do not take care of our own physical and emotional health, we will not be able to make clear and informed choices for those under our direction and care.

All too often, business owners and managers put the needs of the business first. They may work long hours or stretch themselves thin in favor of meeting deadlines and improving the company’s bottom line. However, in a time of crisis, these strategies can push decision makers to the breaking point. When you become sick or overwhelmed you may leave your business without any meaningful leadership when it needs it the most.

What Does Healthy Self-Care Look Like in the COVID-19 Crisis?

First, you should be following social distancing and cleaning protocols. This will set a good example for your workers and help you stay healthy. If someone at your workplace becomes sick, you should isolate yourself as much as possible. Most businesses can be led virtually, but you won’t be able to lead your team from the hospital.

Next, work with a therapist or executive coach to identify and manage the emotional effects of isolation and fear related to change and uncertainty. Try to define the underlying triggers for your emotional responses and find different ways to approach difficult topics.

Third, identify coping strategies that you and your workers can use to work through the hard choices ahead. This could include strategic planning, communication tools, or prioritizing between business goals.

Finally, use those tools to make pragmatic decisions about how to respond to the crisis of the moment. By working with a business consultant, you can manage the emotional fall out to make the tough decisions and keep your business going, even during the COVID-19 crisis.


David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 30 years’ experience helping small business owners respond to and survive crises. Through virtual executive coaching, David helps CEOs and executives make tough management decisions to carry their businesses through hard times. Contact us to meet with David and create a COVID-19 crisis plan that protects you, your workers, and your business.