Business Leaders During COVID-19: Joseph Michelli

Business Leaders During COVID-19: Joseph Michelli

2020 was a year like no other. As we enter 2021, many are looking to the future and envisioning a world where the pandemic is under control. My guest today is here to look back at the decisions made by business leaders during COVID-19. 

Today’s guest is a NYT Best-selling author who was on the show last year with his book The AirBnB Way. He is Joseph Michelli and he is here with his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity, to discuss the lessons we’ve learned throughout the chaos. 

Joseph’s book brings to life how some of today’s biggest and most successful executives and business owners have navigated one of the greatest tests of management theory and practices we have ever seen.

This episode of The Profit Express is brought to you by Corbett Public Relations, Promoting and Protecting Businesses and Brands for over 30 years. Visit to learn more.  

Putting Self-Care First as a Manager

As leaders, our first priority is often our team members and customers. When the impact of the pandemic became clear, leaders kept this mentality in place. Listen at 5:34 as Joseph discusses how this is the wrong approach. He saw many managers work 20 hours a day without sleeping or eating. The belief that self-care is selfish is incorrect. As a leader, you must put your (non-COVID) mask on first. You cannot take care of your team if you aren’t taking care of yourself. 

Reaching Out to Others for Support

Leaders are naturally fueled by egos. No one in power wants to admit that he or she doesn’t have all the answers. At 9:05, Joseph talks about how business leaders during COVID-19 realized the importance of sharing insight. 

He tells the story of David Dearie, the president and CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, located in Woodinville, Washington. At the beginning of the pandemic, he was invited to join Challenge Seattle, an alliance made up of CEOs from 20 of the region’s largest employers. David was able to interact with CEOs from Boeing, Starbucks, and other companies. He took lessons from Starbucks, a company that had locations in China and could see what policies would need to go into place. 

The lesson here is important for business leaders not just during COVID-19, but in the future. If we don’t reach out to others, we’ll not only not have their insight, but we’ll feel alone in all we do. We need others to help us make hard decisions. 

Which comes first? Customers or employees?

People always come first in leadership decisions. But which people? Listen at 12:35, where Joseph compares the mentality of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is a customer-first leader. Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, puts his employees first. 

COVID-19 has led to many leaders choosing between employees and customers. Joseph explains that you have to take care of your own people. To have a remote chance of surviving, you need a staff that is ready to work. 

Putting Muscle Behind Words

It is common for employees to view the words of their leaders as just lip service. At 17:20, Joseph discusses how Hans Vestberg, the CEO of Verizon, put muscle behind his words, becoming more popular as a result. When the pandemic began, he instituted more generous leave policies and benefits to ensure his employees were safe and cared for. He also spoke out and told shareholders to not expect much in terms of company growth while was taking care of his team. 

The Impact of Anxiety

We are obviously living in a stressful time, and our anxiety is higher than it ever has been before. Listen at 22:20 to hear what Joseph has to say about anxiety’s impact on business leaders during COVID-19. Leaders must be careful about saying more than they know. While people want to have the gaps filled in, honesty is key. The trust of your team members is everything.

Setting Your Intentions

As a leader, there is a fine line between being vulnerable and oversharing. At 33:00, Joseph speaks about how leaders can be vulnerable without having a sob story. Sharing part of your humanity allows your staff to see that you are a human being. It is all about having the right intentions and wanting to effect positive outcomes. 

Looking to the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major changes in business. Listen at 43:30 to hear Joseph discuss the long-term effect of these decisions. While remote work offers many cost saving benefits, there is no substitute for sitting face to face and collaborating. A revision of the workplace model will likely be in effect. 


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