How to Lead Through a Crisis

In times of crisis, we look to the leaders we respect for guidance and reassurance. In your personal life, you might look to leaders like Simon Sinek, Jacinda Ardern, or David Attenborough to ease your experience of a crisis as you search for certainty and answers. In a workplace, it’s much the same – the company looks to its leadership team for guidance, answers and most of all, reassurance.

Those words are not to be taken lightly. How do you guide when the crisis is external and not planned for? How do you as a leader give answers to questions you seek yourself? And how do you reassure when the future is unknown?

Authentic leadership

If ever there was a time for a leader to be authentic, this is it. The key to authentic leadership is honesty. Honesty in your abilities, your knowledge and your power. People respect a leader like this, even one who actively acknowledges they don’t know the answer or choses to be honest when it’s the hardest path.

Air New Zealand’s CEO, Greg Foran, is a great example of a leader who has been honest with both employees and the entire country in this time of crisis. He’s having the difficult conversations and being upfront about what the issues are.

Be a Rock

It’s important to be seen as a pillar of strength and calm in moments of crisis. If you are seen to be panicking by your team, that behaviour will be mirrored in them. It’s normal to feel stressed and a little nervous in times like these, but try not to let your staff see it. Before talking to staff it helps to take a moment to pull together a plan of attack, regroup, and then address your people when you feel more centred.

Breathing slowly and deeply can help to calm you down and rationalise your thoughts. It can also help to get outside and get some fresh air into those lungs.

Listen to others

Often, your team will let you know what they need from you – you just have to listen. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling alone in your leadership and trying to come up with all the answers by yourself. But how do you know the answer if you haven’t even listened to the question? Make sure your people’s concerns are heard, after all, you are the voice that represents them.

Where possible, share the problem, the options, and the current plan of attack with your team. It sounds trite, but they may come up with solutions or additional issues that you haven’t thought of. Also outline how your team can provide input until the crisis is resolved. This will help them feel valued and useful, as well as ease the pressure on you.

Share what you have learnt from authority above you

Listen to those above you and reiterate what they are saying to your team (where appropriate). Whether that is information you are getting from the Government, your CEO or your direct manager. Sharing important messages will help ensure that no misinformation is circulating your team causing disruption and unnecessary stress.

If you want to keep your team as united as possible, you can achieve this with transparency.

Above all, be kind

Lead with humanity. These are trying times professionally, personally and physically for us all. Leading with kindness and understanding will go a long way with your team and it is what you will be remembered for when this is all over.

Things like being understanding if someone needs to step out of a meeting to deal with a crying child, or encouraging non-work related fun like a daily quiz over skype, or simply checking in with individuals regularly to see how they’re holding up, can mean a lot to people. A little can go a long way.

In conclusion

Before talking to staff or firing off an email in frustration, take a breath, and remember that these are exceptional circumstances. Your mood is reflected in the things you say and do and emotion is a contagion. Remember that everyone in your team is trying to figure out new ways of working now that they’re not in the office. Everyone is dealing with their own personal fears about the disease, loved ones and job security. And some unlucky souls are trying to do a full days’ work while entertaining children at the same time. The way you behave now will leave a long and lasting impression on your staff. So, aim to be someone they look up to and aspire to be like.

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