Leadership, Hope, and Minimalism In The Age of Coronavirus and Trump

Warning: This has nothing to do with politics or how to respond to a pandemic.

3 min read

These past few weeks have been… strange. Like many of you, I’ve tried to stay focused at work but I’ve found my mind wandering, turning over both the pandemic and the political climate in the US. My beloved Tom Brady even left me… it’s been rough!

But while everyone on Twitter is rushing to share their new guide to remote work or tell you how you should be acting during these unprecedented times, the new currency that’s gaining in value for me is this—people who shut the heck up unless they truly know what they’re talking about.

I am not a very political person. I am certainly no expert on pandemics. But the current happenings globally have brought three topics to the forefront of my mind that I have studied intently—leadership, hope, and minimalism. In this post I’ll share some thoughts on each that I hope are useful to those of you who are struggling and anxious as we all quarantine.

Hope & COVID-19

I don’t know where COVID-19 is going to lead us—all I’m sure of is it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. That’s certainly not a comforting thought, but it is a reality. 

What I can say, and what I believe will be the silver lining in the wake of Coronavirus is this—I hope that this serves as a wake-up call for everybody globally. The world that we live in is now truly global, and the challenges that we’ll face going forward are going to have to be tackled with the cooperation of the global community. We won’t be successful if we try to attack 21st century problems working alone in isolation at the national level. 

My hope is that COVID-19 makes us realize how interconnected we truly are and that we all need each other—that’s true whether you’re dealing with a pandemic, with climate change, with global hunger, or nearly any other issue. These aren’t American problems, or British problems, of Chinese problems, or Moroccan problems—they are everybody problems!

John Lennon first sang the lyrics to his song “Imagine” back in 1971, almost half a century ago. His words seems increasingly prophetic to me these past few weeks:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Don’t get me wrong—I’m proud to be an American and realize how lucky I am to have been born in this country with all of the privileges that being American represents. But I can and do hope for a future where country is of secondary importance, because we realize that humanity is such a more important bond than country could ever be.

I think COVID-19 has the potential to help us realize this—I’m hopeful that it will.

Minimalism & Business

Over the past five years I’ve increasingly started practicing minimalism, both in my personal and professional lives. On a personal level, this means I own one pair of jeans (makes it easy to decide what to wear) and I have six plates in my cupboard (fewer dishes to do). Turns out this is actually a lot of fun, because when I do buy things I get really nice stuff!

But the nature of fewer possessions aside, the benefits of minimalism for me are mostly mental—less stuff to manage, less clutter, less to think about. And the same is true in business.

The ugliest side of American culture is our overconsumption and need to do everything to excess—and nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of technology start-ups. We put our blinders on and pump start-ups up with venture capital, running these businesses at a huge loss with the goal of jacking up their valuations and getting rich quickly. Then we’re shocked when the tides turn, leaving a graveyard of decimated companies, layoffs, and foreclosures in their wake as companies are forced to cut overhead. This is a sob story that never had to be. The fact that COVID-19 can so quickly cripple technology companies that took years to build is evidence that our priorities when building these companies are not quite right.

I’ve spent the last three years writing about how we’re building Outseta with a long-term focus, prioritizing healthy and sustainable growth. Frankly, many have poo-pooed this approach and voiced that our results aren’t extraordinary enough to interest them. I’ve pointed out how SaaS companies specifically are gluttonous with their own software consumption, with two person start-ups employing 28 software tools. Again, these remarks have largely fallen on deaf ears—in good times companies really just aren’t half as concerned with running lean as they let on.

In the last two weeks, my how things have changed. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me and said, “Wow, you’re building your company the right way,” or “Outseta looks really well positioned for what’s to come.” On top of that, our emphasis on building start-ups with less software and lower overhead suddenly has heads nodding.

But Outseta aside, I hope the happenings in the world make more people at least second guess how they’re choosing to build their companies, opting instead for a bit more minimalism and efficiency rather than pursuing growth at all costs. Celebrating gigantic funding rounds and growing employee headcount is just so backwards—if you can do more with less, shouldn’t that be celebrated? Companies like Ahrefs that have focused on metrics like revenue per employee are those that will be best positioned to weather this storm. 

Minimalism in business doesn’t make headlines, but as things get progressively worse it will emerge as the new sexy.

Leadership & Trump

With mounting challenges, we’re in need of leadership more than ever—and I think it’s fair to say people in the US are in desperate need of competent leadership. 

I’m not here to bash on Donald Trump or Republican ideals—as I said I don’t consider myself very political but that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. I don’t identify as a Republican or a Democrat. In fact, I think a bi-partisan political system probably needs to be rethought altogether, as it unnecessarily creates an us versus them mindset where people vote along party lines rather than for the ideas that they believe to have the most merit.

What I’m looking for from a President is leadership, and true leadership starts with being a good, decent, and ethical person. If you can’t be these things, are you really worth following?

The President’s political policies are of secondary importance to me; if you’re not a good, decent, and ethical person you have no business being the leader of the free world. I should be able to point to the President of the United States as a role model for my children even if I don’t agree with all of his policies. I certainly can’t do that today.

Beyond his fumbling response to COVID-19, Trump’s failures of leadership for me boil down to he’s simply not a good and decent person. This has nothing to do with his politics—I’m talking about Donald Trump the human being. If you don’t agree with me tell me what your definition is of a good, decent, and ethical person and then tell me how Donald Trump fits that definition. If you don’t see how Trump is failing us in these regards, I can’t help you. How a guy best known for lawsuits, bankruptcies, and firing people is supposed to bring us together is beyond me.

As we look to the future and the upcoming Presidential election in the US, my hope is that the Coronavirus and everything that comes in its aftermath wakes us up to the fact that who our leaders are does matter. Donald Trump was never fit to be our President.

But more importantly, I hope in the future we assess our leaders first and foremost by looking at their character and ethics before we give a second thought to what political party they are affiliated with. 

The coming months will test us in ways most of us have never been tested before, but with improved leadership, a bit of minimalism, and a growing realization of how interconnected we all are we’ll be better prepared to take on these challenges head on. I for one am hopeful.

And I’m not the only one.

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