C-Suite Advisory

Leading in Uncertain Times: Six Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it some of the biggest challenges CEOs have faced in their entire careers. It has impacted businesses around the world in every industry. No matter the situation, we are clearly operating in unprecedented times, and therefore, I believe it’s a great opportunity and time to be a leader.

For some leaders, the pandemic has meant the very difficult decision of laying off valuable workers, or shutting doors on a business they started and grew for years. For other leaders, it has meant a quick pivot to open new lines of revenue to survive. And for others, it’s meant sudden, unexpected growth and hiring. For many of us, it has also meant operating a company entirely at home alongside toddlers, pets and spouses.

The pandemic has tested our leadership skills and given us an opportunity to deepen our trust and relationship with our employees, customers and partners. While it isn’t always easy, teams are looking at us now more than ever for leadership. The following are a few lessons that I believe are key to leading during this time:

Be authentic
Being your authentic self is one of the most important things we can do as leaders in a time like this. Being real about our feelings, worries and fears shows employees that we’re human, we care about them and others, and are doing everything we can for the business. Honesty and transparency also keep the lines of communication between employees and employers open, deepen relationships and build trust. My team and employees know that I am anxious about the uncertainties in the market, and I’m worried about my elderly parents in Australia. Many other leaders say that showing your vulnerabilities can be a strength, and I have to agree there’s no better time for it than now.

Embrace fear & focus on what you can control

Fear can be extremely paralyzing at times, but it’s critical that you do not let it stop you from taking action. Anyone that has worked with me knows that I prefer to run to the fire. Leaning into fear and using adrenaline to your advantage can help you gain an edge and accomplish goals. This “healthy” fear can be channelled into being a bit more aggressive than your unfearful self and help your business survive difficult times.

As you are running to the fire, however, you also need to ensure you’re doing everything you can for your business and employees by focusing on what you can control. At WhiteHat, we focus on 1) our company (our people; our culture; our values); 2) our customers (what and how we interact with them and how we deliver value to them); and 3) our capabilities (what features and functions our platform brings to our customers to solve their problems).


One of the best things we can do now as leaders is overcommunicate, especially with a distributed workforce. While we must let our employees know of updates to our long-term business strategy, it’s equally important to give them incremental updates on changes and new policies as we all navigate these uncertain times. When the health, safety and future of employees is at stake, you can never be too careful or communicative. I believe that if you don’t communicate frequently enough, people will jump to conclusions and fill their minds with scenarios that create fear.

Make offensive plays

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we determined our priorities were to first ensure the health and safety of our employees; second, to execute the business for our customers; and third, make some defensive and offensive plays. Just as it’s important to defend the business with tried and true strategies, it’s also equally important to determine new offensive plays you can make in the market. When the tides are shifting there are always unique opportunities to uncover and tackle.

Lean on each other

It’s important now more than ever that we recognize we’re not going into battle alone. Leaning on each other is truly the only way to overcome difficult or stressful situations. As a company, we’ve proven that we can operate effectively while all working from home, and we can actually do it even more efficiently than in the office. It’s important that we continue to foster team building, work together, help each other however we can and strengthen bonds with each other to get through this time.

Take a break

In many cases, working from home can actually mean working longer hours, as technology makes us constantly available. Days also become less structured, and the work and home lines blur. Working at home can also add stress from being on constant video calls. Frequent context switching throughout the day can take a toll on employees mentally and diminish productivity. We decided to give people the choice to use the phone vs. video conferencing to take some pressure off being in front of the camera. I also encourage anyone feeling burnt out to take a break that allows them to disconnect completely and recharge their batteries.

Whether you’ve been a CEO for years or are new to the role, we’re all figuring out these uncharted waters. It’s up to us as leaders to lean on one another and offer help, wisdom and advice, as we’re truly all in this together.

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Craig Hinkley
Craig Hinkley, Chief Executive Officer at NTT Application Security (formerly White Hat Security). Craig joined NTT Application Security as CEO in early 2015, bringing more than 20 years of executive leadership in the technology sector to this role. Craig is driving a customer-centric focus throughout the company, and has broadened NTT Application Security’s global brand and visibility beyond the application security space and security buyer, to the world of the development organization and a DevSecOps approach to application development.

Prior to joining NTT Application Security, Craig served as vice president and general manager of the LogLogic business unit for TIBCO Software. In that role, he was responsible for global field sales and operations, client technical services, engineering, research and development, product design, and product management. Before TIBCO, he served as the general manager at Hewlett-Packard for the HP Networking Business in the Americas. Earlier in his career, Craig held positions at Cisco Systems Inc. and Bank of America. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.

Craig Hinkley is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.