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Fear is a Reaction. Leadership is a Choice.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King Jr.

In the start-up space, we’re all about disruption, the meteoric rise, the rocket-launch ascent from seed round to profitable exit, and captured moonshots from some far-off stratosphere of disruptive exploration. The vertical rise from uncharted territory to known domain has shifted entire economies and industries within Silicon Valley and our own Silicon Beach—consider SnapChat, Tinder, ZipRecruiter, and Bird.

Many leaders fail to consider that rapid ascent can preface a wholly disastrous plummet if business is conducted reactively and without mindful intent or measured response.

Let’s consider Bird. After a $75 million funding raise in late January following a valuation of $2.77 billion, the disruptive transportation company laid off 406 employees in two minutes via Zoom in late March. Many employees were given no other communication or resources after abrupt cancellations of internal meetings, leaving a large amount of the workforce scrambling with no information on how to access the items left at their desks, the status of their formerly-cush benefits packages, or direction on filing for Unemployment. 

For a company whose brand ethos was predicated on disruption, human-centric ideals, authenticity, and sustainability, all that the leadership managed to convey in this move was rapid, uncalculated, and reactive flight—spot on branding, Bird.

There’s a better way to deal with crises. Leaders have the responsibility to consider the long-tail repercussions of their decisions—not only on their brand, but also on employees, and in turn, customers. Leaders can be agile in their response to challenges while also considering both the business and human implications of their decisions. What's good for people is good for business. Let's call this a human-centric approach to off-boarding.

Bird leadership likely reacted to the rapid market change without considering repercussions. Reacting to fear is not the same as making the choice to be courageous. The best leaders don’t react without mindful consideration: there’s a moment of thoughtful pause, regardless of how disastrous a situation may be. Tough situations are not an excuse to compromise your values. The purpose of these values are to guide us through these difficult times and help chart a course in unknown territory with a moral compass. 

We’re discussing start-ups because they make it a point to lead with value-centric culture as a driving force: they can be innovative and agile as a direct result of their culture. If said culture is compromised by the least bit of adversity, their value has been rendered obsolete.

The best leaders—and companies—are defined by how they handle adversity. Fear is a reaction. Courage is a choice. The way your leadership responds to crises will impact personal and organizational legacies for years to come. Don’t compromise your brand equity now. Instead, lay the groundwork to inspire future brand ambassadors by taking a measured and thoughtful approach to your strongest arsenal in any battle—your employees. Founders, leaders, and employees, what are your thoughts?

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