Leadership, Money and Compassion Are Critical in Facing COVID-19

Greg Herring shares his insights on how to handle the pandemic

Michael Longmire Lhlt M Gdohc8 Unsplash

Landscape contractors across the country have had a myriad of questions about the state and federal mandates that have been coming in the past couple of weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greg Herring, founder and CEO of The Herring Group, a consultant company, has been trying to answer some of those questions for the small business owners. As part of a recent National Association of Landscape Professionals webinar, he shared some of his general thoughts.

The Big Picture

As a consultant, Herring said he likes to go to source information to see what's going on.

“These are the five things that we watch because they dictate why the politicians are making the decisions that they're making and it helps us understand how long these orders might really last,” he said.

  1. Availability of testing because It affects the case growth. Herring own son was tested nearly a week prior to the webinar and still had not received results. My son was tested last Wednesday for COVID-19.
  2. How contagious is it? Again, he says the data is incomplete. “As business owners, we're used to making decisions based upon incomplete data, so the faster it spreads, the more contagious it is,” Herring said.
  3. The more fear there, we look at case fatality rate because death really ignites fear. “I think that's why we have some of the stay at home orders that we have,” he added.
  4. Can people get re-infected?
  5. Will warm weather reduce the number of new cases?

“Unfortunately, we have countries that are ahead of us and we can monitor developments over there to see if we can answer those questions,” Herring said. “That's what we watch it at the big picture level just to keep grounded on in reality, as opposed to being grounded in what the media might be telling us.”


Herring also shared some of his opinions on the current situation and how best to respond to some of the shelter-in-place orders.

  • Interpret the stay at home order language broadly. “I find with clients, they tend to ask too many questions of whether they can do something or not and I just don't see that to be really helpful,” Herring said. “I don't think that the police are looking to enforce these orders, so I'm not encouraging people to break the law.”  However, he suggested that when he saw some of the orders that stated, “building maintenance” and landscapers were saying, “well, that doesn’t include landscape,” he believes it does.  “Interpret it that way until someone tells you that you can't interpret it that way and then maybe until they tell you a couple of times,” Herring said. “Your business and your employees’ financial livelihoods are at stake, and as long as we can keep them safe, and as long as we can keep our customer safe, I really encourage people to interpret the language broadly.”
  • You will need a lot of available cash, more cash than you know.  
  • Don't hold more than $250,000 of cash in a bank account. “Many of you have more than $250,000 and you should not have that in any one bank,” Herring said. The reason for the $250,000 limit is that's the FDIC limit and that's per an employer identification numbers.

Leadership and Compassion

“More than anything, a crisis demands, strong, effective leadership,” Herring said. “I think leadership is a huge opportunity for all of us.  When there's a crisis, you need great leaders and it's difficult to be a great leader during a crisis.”

He encourages the landscape business owners to exercise the car and concern and direction of a strong leader. Herring says it can make a difference in their families, their employees and their families and even their customers and their families.

As the crisis continues, some customers will be unwilling to unable to pay.

“I think we're likely into this for many months and should be planning that way,” Herring said.  “I have about zero confidence that it won't be extended for a much longer period of time.”

He emphasized the importance of leadership and compassion.

“Our stories and data can help really help reduce panic,” Herring said. As the tip of an iceberg, what you see is the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot more panic underneath there. Ultimately your leadership will make a difference in your community, so lead well and lead strong.”