Leadership During a Crisis
Supporting your team and taking care of yourself.
Posted May 13, 2020
Leadership is challenging enough without throwing a global health emergency into the mix. But here we are. Now many of us are faced with managing virtual teams, implementing technology workarounds, and struggling with an enormous amount of uncertainty.
By the nature of their positions, leaders are tasked with finding an effective balance: addressing their own emotions and concerns about the situation while helping their teams do the same. And that’s all before they need to inspire their teams to continue being productive, despite the chaos. That’s a tall order.
Long before Covid-19 became part of our daily conversations, I was focused on helping leaders prepare to handle the unknowns of the future. The relentless pace of business was already taking a serious toll. We were striving to be purpose-driven, impactful and innovative, but we were often hijacked by never-ending to-do lists and constant firefighting. And now, we have this unfathomable pandemic.
I want to share with you six strategies that could be helpful in getting yourself and your team through a time of tremendous crisis.
First, take a strategic pause.
In other words, take time to think before you launch into action. I’m a work in progress on this, since my bias for action is strong. When under pressure, my natural reaction is to move quickly and take action. While that served me well in some situations, it has also produced some unfavorable outcomes. I recommend trying to replace that bias for action with a bias for thought. Think through your options, considering the short- and long-term impact of your decision-making.
Even when you’re not facing a pandemic, I recommend making the strategic pause part of your daily or weekly schedule. Consider it an unbreakable appointment with yourself. Just stop and think. Let all the things you’ve seen, read, or heard marinate in your mind. You could discover some interesting connections you might have missed before. This practice is extremely important for bringing a strategic viewpoint to your leadership role.
Second, set boundaries.
This strategy applies both literally and figuratively. With social distancing, many of us are working from home. Find a place in the house that is relatively distraction-free. I realize that might be highly optimistic, considering many people have significant others also working from home and small children who need care. Do what you can, and create a schedule so that each person has a time and place for absolute focus.
Emotionally, set some boundaries on the amount of time you spend watching the news or listening to other people who are catastrophizing everything. It’s not healthy to pretend this disaster isn’t happening, but give yourself some time limits on worrying. Take the opportunity to acknowledge your anxiety, and then let it go. Put things in perspective for yourself—and help others do the same.
Third, communicate openly and frequently.
Your team members desperately need information from you, even if you don’t have all the answers. Be truthful, and provide regular updates.
Empathize with the feelings of stress that your team members are experiencing. Listen to their concerns and challenges. Show some vulnerability when you can. We’re all in the same boat during this unprecedented experience, so it’s an opportunity to build unity and establish greater trust. Check in frequently both one on one and via team meetings, and express appreciation for the efforts they are making in such unusual circumstances.
Fourth, make your meetings count.
Distractions are plentiful, so do what you can to create virtual meetings that maximize productivity. When possible, send out updates and status reports in advance so people can read everything and be prepared for discussion. Then, your meeting time can be reserved for questions, brainstorming, and generating more creative and innovative ideas. It’s also important to set aside a little time at the beginning of your meetings to check in with everyone and find out how they are doing and what you can do to help make them more productive.
Fifth, create a flexible plan.
Leaders may feel paralyzed by the unknowns and constantly changing parameters of such a chaotic time. The first inclination might be to hide under the desk and wait for some sense of normalcy to return. A better solution is to develop a plan that allows you to get started in a small way, with the ability to pivot whenever necessary. Don’t get too attached to any one solution, since things are evolving rapidly. Keep taking the pulse of the situation. Analyze what’s working and what’s not. Be willing to shift gears whenever it makes sense.
One great way to do this is through scenario planning. Accept that you may not know everything in the moment, so get into the mindset of short cycle times and prototypes. Think through the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario, and the likely actual outcome. That will help you be prepared for whatever happens and make adjustments.
Finally, don’t try to go it alone.
During times of chaos, leaders often feel like they are solely responsible for supporting their team members and helping everyone else hold it together. You need and deserve support, too. Make sure you take time to evaluate how you are handling the situation. Reach out to your peers and co-workers to talk about the unique challenges you are facing. You might even make a plan to touch base with a trusted colleague at the end of each day to exchange thoughts and provide emotional support.
The pandemic has ushered in enormous challenges for today’s leaders. By using these strategies, you can support your team members while also caring for yourself. Remember that no one has all the answers. Do your best, and cut yourself some slack. When you are deliberate about providing positive leadership in the middle of a crisis, you’ll be well-positioned for growth and success on the other side.