Donna Tona

Responding to the ‘invisible enemy’

Guide employees through the coronavirus pandemic with a calm, empathetic demeanor.

April 15, 2020

The scariest situation often is the one you can’t see. That’s one reason the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused so much fear and anxiety, says Donna Tona, vice president of logistics and client experience at Werkz Inc.

“We’ve been attacked by something we can’t see and by something we don’t know we have until we’re in the hospital,” says Tona, who specializes in emergency trauma management and assists government entities and businesses with crisis incidents. “When the enemy is invisible, we can’t get a handle on it, we can’t get a grasp on it, and we have no answers.”

CUNA News: How can leaders be effective in a crisis?

Donna Tona: The right leaders come to the forefront during times of crisis, and that hour has come for many leaders. They must have a calming, empathetic demeanor, and they need to be able to judge how much they can rely on their teams.

Leaders don’t have to deal with everything. They must have response teams that can do the job and report back.

A good leader also must be open to the evolving nature of the problem and avoid being paternalistic. Many leaders don’t appreciate how important messaging can be in times of a crisis. They’re not consistent and they’re not open.

They’re hiding stuff—and that’s one of the worst things they can do. If they don’t know something, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” And it’s OK to talk differently to different groups.


Q: How can leaders look out for employees’ well-being?

Tona: We must reframe how we speak about the crisis.

Isolation, for example, connotates a ton of different anxiety scenarios. Instead of saying we’re “isolated at home,” reframe that to “we’re safe at home.” Emphasize that we can communicate through Skype or FaceTime.”

We often give into panic and fear simply because we dwell on it. If you’re safe at home or working from home, you don’t have too much panic or fear other than a different kind of stress.

Also, if your members can’t work, they’re scared, and they’re coming to you for support. Credit union staff must put their anxiety away and help these members.

Q: How does the COVID-19 pandemic compare to other crises?

Tona: One crisis is never the same as another, but they all have similar characteristics. One is that they build resilience in people.

While people are afraid, they’re also stepping up to the plate. The person you least expect to step up and be the hero usually does.

I’ve also seen people be calm and collected until it’s all over. I think stress levels will be higher on the recovery end of this and leaders must prepare for that.

Companies can come back stronger than ever from this. We’re resilient and we have a will to move forward.

The natural human tendency to support and make a difference for others is very strong, and it does come up in these situations. We must look for different ways to help, and we’re starting to get that.