As COVID-19 forces people all over to make drastic changes to their work and life routines, it’s important to learn how top performers are adjusting to new circumstances. Todd Herman, peak-performance coach, author and entrepreneur, in the middle of recovering from COVID-19 himself, spoke to 29 top CEOs to discover what they’re doing to stay at their best during the outbreak.
Here’s what he learned (lightly edited for clarity):
Over the past few days, while quarantined with COVID-19, I spent the time talking to a total of 29 CEOs—leading business ranging from $2.2 million to $511 million in revenue—to unpack their psychology, plans, and current experiences.
I asked each CEO the same group of questions, recorded, with permission, all the calls, got the calls transcribed and analyzed the word choices of the CEOs.
In the world of performance, the language of people achieving markedly different results from others is translated in their word choice and language. Bottom line: your words create your reality.
After looking at the data and reflecting on the conversations I divided the 29 CEOs into three groups:
- The Fear Focused CEOs – this group is the most emotional, most concerned and most overwhelmed.
- The Unfocused CEOs – this group is the one still uncertain on what to do, playing wait and see, and most dismissive.
- The Strategy-Focused CEOs – this group is the most focused on taking what it’s given and using it and is still focused on growth/opportunity.
I’ll start with the Fear-Focused CEO Group:
- They’re currently consuming five times more media than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used the word ‘GOVERNMENT’ or ‘TRUMP’ 11 times more than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used the word CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19 seven times more often than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used the word ‘FEEL’, six times more often than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used negative future pacing words, 13 times more than the Strategy-Focused Group. (Words like ‘struggle’, ‘fear’, ‘hard’, or ‘difficult’).
The nuance with analyzing the data in the previous point is that the context matters. The Strategy-Focused CEOs often also used hard/difficult, but it was in context to taking action and shifting focus. So a plus/minus framing was added to differential between the two contexts).
Next, let’s look at the Unfocused CEO Group:
- They’re consuming over three times more media than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used the word “PLAN” (or derivatives) in a negative or needs-based way eight times more than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used the word ‘FINDING,’ in an emotional needs way, six times more than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They used the word ‘HYSTERIA’, three times more than the Strategy-Focused Group.
- They talked about ‘VACATION/TIME OFF’, six times more than the Strategy-Focused Group.
Finally, the STRATEGY-FOCUSED CEO Group:
- They’re three times more likely to know about TAIWAN’s response to the Coronavirus. (Taiwan has had the fastest, smartest and most measured response. Despite the incredibly close proximity to China, it has a dramatically low number of cases when compared to other nations.)
- They’re nine times more likely to be shifting product/service offerings.
- They’re four times more likely to have already made changes to their teams.
- They used the word ‘ACTION’ or ‘OPPORTUNITY’ derivatives six times more than the other groups.
- They used the word ‘BUY’ eight times more than the other groups. (Context was around possibly buying other businesses, buying more advertising/marketing, buying more talent/hiring.)
- They used POSITIVE FUTURE-PACING words, 13 times more than the other groups.
- This group was four times more likely to have already spoken to other CEO’s about plans for growth, sustainability or opportunities.
Finally, here are some key summary points about the three groups:
No group was immune to currently experiencing a revenue dip. All groups had businesses experiencing a slowdown in the past couple of weeks. Not all, but some.
The Fear-Focused Group was the most negative and was watching too much media and occupying time on the blame game. This clouded judgment and is preventing them to see what can be done.
The Unfocused Group had a bit of ‘head in the sand’ thinking and could’ve easily been classified as a part of the Fear-Focused group, but they demonstrated some slightly different traits. Mostly in the way they talked about finding a plan or getting a plan more than the Fear-Focused group.
The Strategy-Focused Group leaned WAY more on healthy networks and focused on solutions more and were overall more positive and felt more secure than others. Some of this was because they didn’t consume a lot of fear or negativity.
ALL of them said, they WANTED their business to be healthy. However, with time, more conversation and data, their words were expressing a far different psychology hidden underneath.
Oh, one final and interesting point of data:
There were THREE CEO’s that stood out for their calm, cool and collected thinking and the fact they had also taken the earliest action.
What was the common link?
They all had daily meditation practices.
Herman’s findings are instructive to all of us who have the opportunity to lead others, personally or professionally: your words matter. When you are fearful or unfocused, the people who look to you to set an example will take the same approach.
But if you are calm, thoughtful, strategically focused and empathetic, you can make a difference. Choose your words and actions carefully.
Robert is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners. Join 100,000+ global leaders who follow his inspirational weekly Friday Forward or invite him to speak. His new book, Elevate: Push Beyond Your Limits and Unlock Success in Yourself and Others, was recently named to the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller lists.