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Women Of The Channel 2020: Leading Fearlessly In A Time Of Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has called on female executives to do the one thing that many have avoided in their professional careers: get personal.

Tanaz Choudhury, president and CEO of TanChes Global Management, used to put on her red lipstick— her “warpaint”—at the beginning of every workday to ready her mindset to get business done. Now, she’s putting it on each morning for a different reason: to give her employees and customers a small sign of normalcy during a chaotic time.

“It went from being my own tool for confidence to becoming a signature of confidence,” Choudhury said. “The way you portray yourself during a time of crisis can make a big difference to someone else. Being a woman leader in a predominantly male environment really puts the focus back on me at times like this—I truly feel like the matriarch of the organization.”

Leading fearlessly is key to being an effective and transformational leader during the best of times. But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year, the phrase has taken on a whole new meaning.

[RELATED: The 2020 Women Of The Channel Database]

Most businesses were forced to close their doors, and employees began working from home to help slow the spread of the virus. But it wasn’t just professional lives that were upended by the crisis. Schools across the U.S. began closing their doors in March and students of all ages were required to learn at home, sparking brand-new challenges for working parents.

The importance of human connection, executives told CRN, is the silver lining that has emerged from the COVID-19 crisis.

Sugar Land, Texas-based TanChes took a multifaceted approach to responding to the pandemic both internally and externally. For clients, TanChes still had to be a trusted solution provider and put the right connectivity and security technologies in place to help customers work remotely, very quickly. But Choudhury also found herself “playing therapist” with anxious clients, as well as with her own employees.

“We had to change from being just a trusted adviser to being more human,” Choudhury said. “Not only were we dealing with issues professionally, but we were dealing with personal issues as well because this is happening to all of us at the same time.”

In the midst of the pandemic, 77.5 percent of respondents in a recent survey of channel women from CRN parent The Channel Company said that they believed their voice and ideas were more important than ever. At the same time, 23.7 percent of respondents said that senior leaders were turning to them at this time to keep the company going.

Leading fearlessly in a time of crisis, ironically, calls on women to do the one thing that many have actively avoided in their professional careers—showing their human side, executives said.

“I think my team might be surprised by how personal I’m getting on calls and sharing a bit about my life and asking about theirs—sometimes, even skipping over work things to ask how their families are doing and what they are looking forward to when this passes,” said Elissa Livingston, senior vice president of growth and strategy for cloud optimization startup CloudCheckr. “My team and, frankly, my customers and partners have been amazing about expressing empathy and understanding at this time.”

Livingston has been making herself available visibly during the workday via videoconferencing tools since Rochester, N.Y.based CloudCheckr started to work remotely in March. Replacing in-person interactions and one-on-one meetings with connections across new tools has been critical, according to Livingston.

“Making sure team members are OK and understand they are still an important part of the business and team right now is huge,” she said. “I’m certainly still as busy as I was before, but I’m being more intentional with my time.”

For Livingston, becoming more tactical and less strategic was an important adjustment to make.

“It’s hard to look a year out and plan for in-person events,” she said. “Right now, it’s about improving the day-to-day things. This has given us an opportunity to look at the micro-level elements of our business. It’s giving us the opportunity to look inward.”

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