While a global pandemic coupled with an economic uncertainty is an unprecedented crisis, there’s no shortage of other forms of disruption that can – and will – occur during your time as a business leader.
Learning how to lead in a crisis is not a course you take in college. It’s not a continuing education training offered at some workshop. You’re thrown off-kilter, you’re forced to communicate in new ways, to navigate new challenges. Even if your company was proactive enough to create an Emergency Plan, each time you have to use it, you have to refine it to fit the current conditions.
It’s something you have to tackle proactively, or, in many cases, learn on the go.
Business leaders are having to step up their game during COVID-19 and it’s likely you’re among those who have yet to face a challenge of this magnitude.
This is far from over. The longer it continues, the more impact the crisis will have on your team and your business performance.
We want to provide you with a guide, a crash-course, if you will, in leading during a crisis.
These are the five most important questions you need to be able to answer to pass the test:
#1) Am I Acknowledging the New Changes Your Team Has Been Thrown Into?
One of the biggest mistakes managers and business leaders can make is failing to outwardly acknowledge the challenges facing your team during a crisis.
Yes, we all know we’re facing a crisis. Yes, it should be obvious. But you still have to SAY it to your team and verbally acknowledge the difficulties you are all facing.
Showing your team that you are aware and empathetic of their sudden work/life shift makes them feel seen and heard. Failing to do so may lead your team to feel overlooked, ignored, and, eventually, resentful.
This simple action can shift your team’s thoughts from negative to positive. From pessimistic to hopeful. From tired to motivated. Sharing positive thoughts, gratitude, empathy, and understanding will breed more of this in your team.
#2) Am I Actively Focusing on Building and Maintaining Rapport and Relationships?
When we’re in survival mode, it’s easy to forget about those who are not in our immediate vicinity. Unfortunately, your team is no longer in that local circle.
As a result, it can be easy to let those relationships slide and focus more on what needs to get done TODAY and RIGHT NOW – and rarely do employee relationships fall into this narrow category. If this is the case, you’re heading into a stressful spiral that can easily be avoided.
Strong relationships with managers, specifically, allow team members to feel secure and valued. During a crisis, security can be all but lost. When everything feels out of control, having a strong community around you makes your team feel like an actual team – not just a handful of folks working on similar projects.
#3) Am I Communicating More Frequently and More Transparently?
In a crisis, less is not more when it comes to communication. More is more and you need to find the ways your team communicates most effectively. Regular and thorough communication can lift the stress of the unknown, it makes your team feel like they’re in the loop, and it ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Prioritize transparency. Find the information that is accurate and relevant and share it with your team by all channels possible. Hearing information once is unlikely to leave a lasting impact so sharing it multiple times in different ways is more effective.
I recommend a mix of communication styles and platforms.
Video meetings give you that face-to-face time that is so vital in truly understanding someone else and building those relationships we talked about earlier.
Regular text communication whether through email, Slack, text, or through a messaging service is a quick and efficient way to share.
Voice calls can also quickly clear up otherwise muddy waters.
A few things to keep in mind for each of these communication methods:
- Video conferencing is novel but can suck up time and energy quickly. Keep your meetings short and sweet so your team doesn’t lose enthusiasm for them.
- Text is great but lacks the tone and body language of other methods. Always assume the best intentions of others and if something has the potential to be misconstrued in the faceless, voiceless channel, pick a different avenue to communicate that need.
- Phone calls, like video calls, can get out of hand quickly and a lot of your team members may resent them. Keep them short and sweet, more like a walkie-talkie conversation rather than a big long, reconnect-with-your-long-lost-cousin conversation.
#4) Am I Aware of External Forces Impacting My Team’s Overall Wellness?
Each crisis is going to throw new curveballs your way. During the initial wave of COVID-19 we’re seeing schools shut down, communities lock up, and grocery store stock dwindle. These have minimal impact on your office (except, of course, that everyone is working from home all of a sudden) and yet they have a massive impact on your team.
External forces are always vying your team’s attention and during a crisis, they scream louder. You need to be cognizant of these factors and express to your team your empathy surrounding them. Work together to find solutions to those external factors that disrupt the most and patiently navigate the rest as a unified force.
It’s important to realize that your team is under a huge amount of emotional stress on top of their regular work challenges. Do what you can to reduce this stress – even if the only thing you can really do is acknowledge that it is there.
Leaders need to understand – and accept – that they can’t control everything. We need to instead focus on creating a semblance of routine and organization so that your team knows what is expected of them and what they can expect from others. This will shift and pivot but having some order in their work will help reduce the overall disorder they’re facing for the rest of their lives.
#5) Do I Have a Clear Vision for the Future?
Pre-crisis, your future goals may have been laid out as many as five or ten years.
During a crisis, sometimes all you can do is see the day in front of you. And that’s okay.
You need to stay focused on the business’s vision and adjust daily to marry the demands of the moment with the needs of tomorrow.
Your team is reacting based on your actions. If you’re scattered and incoherent, the work they produce will be too. If you’re patient, understanding, and hard-working, they will emulate that.
Express appreciation for where your team is now and the work they are doing to get your company where it needs to go. Keep the team motivated, but don’t put the pressure of the organization’s future on their shoulders.
Balance adjusting the sails to the day’s winds to stay on the path to your goals. Focusing on the future while rooted in the present can be just the guiding force your team needs. It can also give back that sense of control and predictability they have lost during the crisis.
Be deliberate and empathetic in addressing these five critical questions.
An unexpected disruption is the ultimate learn-on-the-job skill and how you navigate tumultuous situations can make or break your organization and your team’s trust.
Take care of your people and the work will take care of itself.
In the “Resilience Through Crisis” Toolkit, I’ll give you a plug-and-play communication and team resilience plan packed with step-by-step guides, tools, and templates to help take your team from “Uncertain and Unfocused” to “Unflappable and Unstoppable.”