COLUMN: The Leadership Pivot In A Time Of Crisis - 27 East

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COLUMN: The Leadership Pivot In A Time Of Crisis

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Joe Campolo

Joe Campolo

Joe Campolo on May 14, 2020

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

— Lao Tzu

Leaders aren’t born — they are made by the times they exist in and how they rise to the occasion.

Let me back up.

The richness of Long Island lies not only in its real estate and school districts but also in its innovative businesses, restaurants and hospitality. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and must survive.

Like many of you, I have spent my entire career helping to build Long Island — and, also like you, I am not willing to sit back and watch these businesses be destroyed without a fight.

The only way to move forward is for us to be leaders.

Leading through this pandemic requires both an acceptance of reality and being adaptable and agile to our ever-changing circumstances. The “pivot,” if you will — on steroids.

On Monday, March 16, shell-shocked business owners and employees, my team included, headed home with stacks of folders, remote login instructions, and barely a clue that the world had just changed forever.

Personally, I felt like I had been hit in the heat with a bat, and I wasn’t alone. My next few days were filled with panicked calls from clients and friends who simply had no idea what the future held and how their businesses could survive. The fear was palpable, and it paralyzed some of the strongest people I know.

By Friday, March 20, most people were in one of two camps: overtaken by panic (not sure what to do, so doing nothing), or in total denial (refusing to accept the reality of where we are now, which is understandably difficult, because everybody just wants this to go away).

I was trained in the U.S. Marine Corps that no one is coming to help me. So I did the only thing that made sense to me: worked with my team to help cut through that static, and take action.

By Saturday morning, we had launched a first-of-its-kind coronavirus relief hotline, open to all members of the business community, regardless of whether they were CMM clients.

We set up a dedicated phone number and email address where businesses could submit questions about the impact of the pandemic on their businesses. The calls were then routed to the appropriate CMM attorney, who promptly followed up with guidance, at no charge.

Over those first few weeks, we answered hundreds of questions about everything on the business community’s mind: sick leave, workplace safety, cash flow, stimulus questions, and eventually the Paycheck Protection Program application and forgiveness. The list was endless.

Our simple pivot from providing legal services to clients to providing targeted business guidance to the larger business community enabled us to empower these businesses with the knowledge they needed to move forward and make critical decisions impacting their survival.

I truly believe that this work helped many businesses stay open when they otherwise wouldn’t have made it.

Our next pivot involved our charitable foundation, CMM Cares Inc. Before the pandemic hit, we were focused on fundraising initiatives; once we realized the gravity of the situation, our focus shifted from trying to raise awareness of us to raising awareness of others. There were so many good people doing so many good things out there, and we knew we needed to highlight those other organizations so that people could access all the resources available, not just ours.

We immediately launched a donation drive for comfort care items (granola bars, drinks, lotions, etc.) for the health care heroes fighting on the front lines at Stony Brook Medicine, helping to fulfill a critical need with a low-value ask.

We also started an aggressive social media campaign for CMM Cares, where we highlight a mix of charitable initiatives, mental health resources, businesses adapting to the changes, and ways people can help in a crisis that makes us feel powerless. In doing so, we were able to connect hundreds of people to these resources — which is exactly the reason we started the foundation in the first place.

None of us knows where this next chapter leads us, but we can all control our responses. We must be patient, focused, disciplined, hopeful, optimistic and zealous.

We must continue to endure the most stressful conditions we will likely face in our lifetime.

We have to look at a macro level, accept, and adapt.

We must help others along the way, including making sure we are taking care of our own physical and mental health.

We must be able to change and react to brand new circumstances that may arise without warning.

We must find ways to bring value to our new ecosystem.

In short, we must all be leaders to survive.

Joe Campolo is the managing partner of Ronkonkoma-based Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP, a Forbes Top Corporate Law Firm in America.

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