8 min read
In late March Eric Yaverbaum was running when he suddenly felt his body collapse. “I just felt bad,” he said in an interview with . “My breathing became very labored. He gave me a cough, extreme fatigue, body aches like I had never felt in my life before. “He went to the hospital, where a test confirmed his condition: he had COVID-19 . The doctors sent him home to quarantine him.
Yaverbaum is the president of Ericho Communications in New York City, and now he faces a challenging question: how do you lead your company while fighting a terrifying disease? It is a question that many entrepreneurs will probably face in the coming months, but Yaverbaum was more prepared than most. His experience is in crisis communication.
In difficult times like this, Yaverbaum believes that leaders must step up transparency, open communication, and deep trust in their team. As he recovers from COVID-19, I chatted with him about how he runs his company during his illness and how good he can get out of all this turmoil.
“Making a change of direction toward a new goal: Rest and recover. # Day 7 of my unplanned involvement in antibody research. One long day at a time. Stay home. Stay there! Strength is born out of resilience. We are in this together “/ Image: Courtesy Eric Yaverbaum
(ENT): Where are you right now?
Eric Yaverbaum (EY): I am in the same bed that I have been in for the last 11 days. I'm going from bed to bathroom, and it's not that far from the bathroom. That is what I do every day.
ENT: Well, I have to say that you hear well …
EY: Thanks, but you wouldn't believe how bad I look.
ENT: What have the last 11 days been like for you?
EY: I had a hard time breathing at night. He was literally gasping for air. That has improved considerably. I have extreme body aches. I have no sense of taste. I have no sense of smell. It is very, very strange. You can literally feel the disease move in your body. It goes from one part to another. Sometimes it is in the lower part of my body. Sometimes it is the top. COVID-19 pains, even if you have had a case of acute flu, make those pains look like simple raw youth. You can feel this when it's in your lungs, which was terrifying.
ENT: Your illness could have had a great impact on your company. How did you decide what to do once you were diagnosed?
EY: I have employees on both coasts. I immediately communicated with transparency and let my entire company know exactly how I was feeling. What my company knows about me personally in the last 11 days is significantly more than I ever thought I should share with my employees. I communicated with them, with everyone who works for me, with all the tools I had, and I did it in a transparent, optimistic and realistic way.
We are in the middle of something big right now and we don't know what will happen tomorrow. This is a time when true leaders will make themselves known. I saw September 11 through my office window. I saw bridges, with everyone in my office covering our mouths, trying to process what we were seeing. I was in charge of an organization then. He had to decide what to do, with zero experience. There is no trick or playbook. No one tells you what to do when that happens. It is instinctive. And I think that, in this crisis, you will see great leaders appear. They will help us all take steps forward, which is what we must do every day.
ENT: After you got sick, did you put other people in charge to make decisions in your absence?
EY: That was exactly what I did. I have smart people working for me. If they are not empowered to make decisions when I cannot or am not available, then we are not a great organization or I have not hired correctly.
My COO has a performance beyond her years. I have people who run businesses for me who have taken proactive leadership . So, yes, I gave the wheel to several people and let them drive. I can still write, so I let each person know that they are doing a great job. And I do that every day.
ENT: Your staff must have worried about the future of the company and about their own jobs when you got infected. It is a time of massive uncertainty. How did you approach that?
EY: Realistically. I spoke to all my people and said: “Who wouldn't be afraid?” People like to know about tomorrow. The fear of the unknown exists in everyone's mind. Suddenly we are in an era where we have no idea what will happen. Now everything is different, and you know, this new world is beginning to establish itself. The illusion of control has finally cleared up in what it always was: an illusion . There is no such thing as control.
ENT: Once this is all over, do you think everything will go back to normal? Or will there be a lasting impact on you and your company?
EY: It has been said that if you want to discover your life, find out what your worst day was. Your worst day was actually your best day, because that was the day that changed you. And I believe that. I have had many bad days in my career. We have all had our fair share. But this is different. We are in this together, all of us.
We all have fewer options right now. If you feel that “There is no way …” then this would be a very good time to make your way elsewhere. For me, it all comes down to how you enjoy the space between where we are and wherever we are going . Because if you don't say that with a question mark, you're being misleading, because nobody knows.
You can start by recognizing that the most important things in life are not things. It turns out that what we think could never go away tomorrow is already gone in many ways. And if it wasn't obvious to you before, people who need help look a lot like people who don't need help.
My feeling is that when small people, and I am really small – I am short – are overwhelmed by great emotions, it is the leader's job to share calm. Not chaos. Chaos is easy to find. Just turn on the news and you'll find a lot of chaos.
If your first thought this morning was not “thank you,” you may want to reconsider what's important to you now. It seems like we all got some really amazing new cards, and now we have to learn how to play those new cards. And I say play with them, geez.