Leading Through Crisis
All crises require leadership and definitive action. But, as events continue to unfold, this can be easier said than done.
A crisis is defined as any event that is going to lead to an unstable and potentially dangerous situation. It can affect an individual, a specific group, a community, or, as is the case with the coronavirus, it can affect the whole society, the world. The environment is chaotic, and the pace is fast. In addition to responding to the current situation, leaders must also be anticipating what will happen next. This prediction and the subsequent action plan put into place has to be agile and responsive as the situation continues to evolve.
Be too rigid and you could be acting on old and irrelevant information. Wait to respond and your inability to act could be costly. Leading through a crisis is no easy task. To help you as you prepare your response, to this crisis or the next, we have assembled 10 tips, thoughts and considerations to keep in mind.
10 Tips to Lead Through Crisis
- Don’t overmanage. It can be easy to turn to operational or tactical tasks during a time of crisis. Don’t fall for the allure. While it’s important to manage the current situation, you have other people to help with that. As the leader, it’s important to take a longer stance on what’s going to happen next.
- Set the tone. Especially during a time of crisis, all eyes turn to leadership. People want to know what to expect and they want to hear it from you. Stay positive while setting realistic expectations of what you anticipate happening next. While people will understand the situation is fluid, be mindful of being overly conclusive. Say what you know and be honest about what you don’t know.
- Take a stance. A time of crisis is a time to show people what you’re all about. What you say now will matter later. If there is a platform, mantra or mission you expressed passion for pre-crisis, find a way to include that in your reaction to the crisis. It will mean more now if, despite all that is going on, you show your ongoing commitment to whatever that mission is.
- Show you care. Leaders who appear to be out for profit during a crisis will lose in the long run. Empathy, care and understanding are important qualities to exhibit but most especially during a time when people feel uncertain and maybe even scared. If drastic actions must be taken, lead those actions with a caring hand. In response to the coronavirus, many organizations have had to do a series of layoffs, with more undoubtedly to come, but it’s the leaders offering up some or all of their salary, furloughing instead of terminating, and providing all they can before doing the needful that embodies what it means to be an empathetic leader during a time of crisis.
- Communicate. During a crisis, misinformation and other rumors spread like wildfire. As the leader, it is important to communicate as much as possible to get in front of any false information that may be going around. Be clear and concise and leave nothing up for assumption or interpretation – doing so will only contribute to the likelihood that there will be rumors.
- Don’t over-centralize. During times of volatility and uncertainty, it can be easy to turn to restrictive measures that ultimately end up being limiting, and in some cases more harmful, to the organization. Maintain control without micromanaging or limiting those around you. Empower the leaders you have supporting you and diversify your teams. Do not over-centralize the response so that every small decision has to pass through you. Be efficient without layering in additional complexities as a response to the crisis.
- Keep the big picture in mind. Thinking narrowly can be comforting and easy to do in a time of crisis. Be strategic and don’t lose sight of the future and big picture goals. The ground in front of you can be tempting to focus on. Don’t.
- Plan. Even during times of stability and predictability, the best laid plans never work out exactly the way they were designed to. While keeping the big picture in mind, create short- and long-term plans to respond to what is going on. Build contingency plans that are flexible and easy to understand without compromising long-term business goals and objectives.
- Build confidence. The greatest leaders are able to transfer fear and uncertainty and harness it towards efforts beyond the crisis. You are in a position to make people feel safe and secure, but it takes patience, confidence and a well-communicated plan to get them there. Avoid being erratic or adding to the unpredictability of the situation.
- Make yourself available. People are craving leadership, especially during a time of crisis. Give them what they want by making yourself available. During the coronavirus outbreak, we have seen exceptional leaders taking small actions that have a big impact – like joining their teams for virtual happy hours, calling employees personally to check in on them and taking an active stance on social media platforms to reassure and share information. There are great examples happening all around us right now, but the key takeaways are the same – show up, be present and don’t miss the opportunity to be the leader people are looking for.