A CEO's Life Lessons Learned After Beating COVID-19

eWEEK SPECIAL FEATURE: Edge Technologies' chief executive also learned a few things about himself, along with things that he never would have taken the time to consider before this enforced timeout.

Edge.Technologies.Jim.Barrett

By Jim Barrett

I’m a lucky guy. I’ve survived an ordeal that has killed tens of thousands of others, and I’ve learned a few things about myself along the way … things I think will make me both a better CEO as well as a better person.

It started on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. I had recently traveled to San Francisco and Washington, but on this day, I felt ill with a fever, cough and shallow breathing. And while I wasn’t sure of what was wrong, I’d seen all the stories about the novel coronavirus and decided to take no chances. I immediately self-isolated at my home in South Carolina, even though there appeared to be a multitude of misinformation at the time. I moved quickly, but still had my doubts that I would test positive. I was wrong.

I was tested four days later by my primary care provider. Six days after that, I got the official word: Yes, I’d tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Nobody else in my family showed symptoms, but we couldn’t be sure: No one had been tested because the tests weren’t available. My primary concern was the safety of my family and making sure that no one else had gotten sick from me. Thankfully, that was the case.

But as the CEO of my company, Edge Technologies, I also had my concerns about the company; if I was not able to help direct the company, who would? Given that I was sleeping more than 12 hours a night, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. as my body tried to fight off the virus, that wasn’t an idle concern. That was especially true as many of our existing clients came at us, all asking for an increase in our ability to serve their needs, as their own workers (and millions of others around the world) began working from home.

Thankfully, I’ve recovered and am back to work. But I was struck along the way with several points that I learned, or re-learned, as a CEO:

  • Visibility in business is paramount. Too often, we take that for granted … we know where the information is and assume that others will know what we do, and that it’ll always be at their disposal. Well, it won’t; without real-time information being made available on a real-time basis, both internally and externally, companies quickly realize their shortcomings, both potential and real. This has proved especially true with the move toward remote workers, as business is not being done as usual. Many of our clients realized this and needed our help on an immediate basis; they realized serious gaps in the data they needed to access regularly, telling us “nobody could have seen this coming.”
  • Companies don’t have a lack of information. I realized that even when our clients (and us) were able to access the raw data, there was often the lack of ability to put it into converged context. The people who might be able to do that … usually to be found in the next office … were working from their homes as I was, stretching out the decision-making process to a far greater degree than it was usually. They had the data, but they had trouble making sense of it.
  • Communication is key. I realized that too often, I assumed I knew what my team members were thinking; this was especially true because we’re almost a fully remote workforce. But as our customers came to us as the COVID crisis unfolded, telling us of communications gaps that had erupted and urgently asking for our help in upgrading their systems to enable what I call “cogent connected data,” I realized that especially at times like this, you cannot over-communicate. I’ve always known that your team members need to know what’s going on at all points, if anything is changing, and … most importantly … why. I thought we did a pretty good job before all of this started, and we have to a large degree. But I realized amid the rapidly changing nature of this crisis that we constantly need to evaluate how we’re doing, and figure ways we can improve our communications with our team members, our partners and our clients … both talking, as well as listening to what they have to say.

I also learned a few things about myself, things that I never would have taken the time to consider before this enforced timeout:

  • It’s not as bad as you think. Being in quarantine had its moments, sure, but I found it gave me more time to think about my business and who I am as a person. My family was incredible; at mealtime, they’d prepare my food, leave it on a tray outside my door, knock on the door and move away. (They’re OK, by the way; none of them tested positive, for which I’m grateful.) I realized I could make do, at least in the short-term. Technology, of course, proved invaluable to keep in touch with my family as well as my business; I think I tried every single video conferencing tool on the market today.
  • Being a delegator is a good thing. I was working at half-capacity at most for the two weeks I was in quarantine; sleeping 14 hours a day will do that to you, as will the bad headaches I was getting while awake. I’ve always considered myself a delegator, hiring great people, pointing them in the direction we want to go as a business and letting them run with it. But this was a huge change of pace for me, and I came away with a renewed sense of appreciation for empowering others to pick up the slack. I’d tell others that if you hire the right people, this gives you more time to enjoy the better things in life. Or, in my case, to recover.
  • Family above all else. I couldn’t have done this without my family. They made it possible for me to focus on getting better. We came together, realizing the importance of the moment, and worked on making things run smoothly. Technology made it possible for my teenage boys to continue their online learning, and as noted above, video conferencing made it possible for us to keep in touch, even if we were just one room away. I never thought I’d be using the technology to ask my family for another cup of coffee. But I did.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I’ve been through an ordeal. I know it’s nowhere as serious as many of the others who’ve been infected, or who have paid the ultimate price. I hurt for them and for their families. I know I’ve been fortunate to have recovered as easily and as quickly as I did, and I’m determined to use the lessons I had the time to think about and learn during that time to move forward and be a better CEO. And a better person.

Jim Barrett is Chief Executive Officer at Edge Technologies based in Northern Virginia.