Leadership lessons during a global crisis

by Lena le Roux. Leadership is about building relationships. It is based on business ethics and mutual understanding and no pandemic can destroy that foundation.

by Lena le Roux. There are basic principles to business leadership that are generic, that people forget. Things that technology can’t replace, like interaction with clients, suppliers, and colleagues. Leadership is about building relationships. It is based on business ethics and mutual understanding and no pandemic can destroy that foundation.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, I interacted with our customers and suppliers. I asked, ‘How are you?’; ‘How are you doing?’; ‘Do you know what strategies you are going to use yet?’ It is that understanding of their business through the relationships we have built up over time, that enabled me to do that.


Partnerships are key to business. It is that very professional type of friendship you develop. It is a trust relationship; as I need to trust my supplier to enable my customer to trust me. And it is that mutual contribution to each other’s businesses that has worked out so beautifully for us for the duration of this global crisis.

We had to look at the impact of the lockdowns on the economy and ask what we could do to help our clients. It was a terrible mess. The hospitality, tourism and alcohol industries were hardest hit. So, we asked ourselves, ‘how can we support our local friends?’

We started with a little newsletter and personal emails, asking how we could help their industry… We have a product that can add value. That resonated so well with our smaller markets – which  couldn’t afford to buy anything. So, we offered extended terms; gave them consignment stock; or gave them something for their showroom. That established a platform we could build on and cement. Our sentiment was: ‘We are not going anywhere, we feel it hardest too, so let’s take hands and see where we can help each other?’


What I find people struggle with, what leaders struggle with, what companies struggle with, is strategy. This is a global crisis. I am not embarrassed about still being asked what my strategy is, what my approach is – the only thing I know, is that I don’t know yet. I’m very honest. It would be very easy to say this is my strategy… but can it be executed? Can it grow the business? Does it have  impact? What we needed to start with, was what could be done, realistically. We, as a manufacturer, sit with massive market challenges, massive supply chain shortages. You need to be open to know you don’t know yet. Take the time to plan ahead with what you do know. To be a clever Alec, is not smart. There is no reference book for this time. Wikipedia can’t tell you.

But, by being authentic, people connect. People have expectations of finding companies and consultants that can bring a solution. You need to work the solution and find the solution. Most of the days during this time, we had bloody noses, we had bad days. But we also had exceptional days. 


Lena le Roux’s key leadership lessons during a crisis:

1. Empathise: Reach out to your clients and suppliers with empathy first. Ask them how they are doing?

2. Listen: Be present and visible. Listen to client and supplier feedback; monitor your industry; talk to your team. Understand your customer’s challenges.

3. Trust: Trust the experience. Trust as a team, as a company, each other. It comes back to authenticity and the foundation of your relationships.

4. Offer solutions: Offer your clients in the hardest hit industries a solution – whether it is stock on consignment or favourable payment terms. Be understanding, supportive and give them practical options.

5. Find calm: Take each day as they come, try read up about what you don’t know. Try navigate to calmer waters.


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Lena le Roux is managing director of Staycold International. She has 27 years of experience in the refrigeration industry; and believes that aligning with the energy efficiency cause, which has a positive impact on the climate, is not a campaign but a culture.



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Staycold International is a sponsor on and with Retailing Africa, will be publishing a series of thought leadership articles on the refrigeration industry in South Africa and Africa. Staycold International is a South African refrigeration company which manufactures self-contained commercial fridges and freezers for South Africa and the African continent from their factory in Parys, South Africa. Their business began in 1979 in Parys, where their home base factory is still located; and where they manufacture units primarily for the beverage and hospitality industries. They have been running for over 40 years with the principles of quality, efficiency, performance, reliability and durability.