When you are first promoted, it’s exciting and daunting. Leading others or leading bigger teams, if you are stepping up a leadership level, is a privilege. When business is good or service demand high, your challenges centre around resource utilisation, quality and quantity of outputs and timeline management. When a crisis happens, everything is upended. Given their own uncertainty, employees look to leaders for assurance and direction.
Communication, always a critical leadership competency, becomes central to whether the team will perform or fail. Crisis situations often bring leaders to the top of their ability, a level they often don’t even realise that they possess. Be confident that no matter how challenging the circumstances are, you will get through this and how you respond is what will be remembered long after the crisis is forgotten. Here are four actions to support you and your team getting through any extremely challenging period.
1. Figure it out.
Most crisis situations feel surreal, the whole panorama changes. While people’s reactions and responses lean towards the irrational, the cause of the crisis is generally rational, however challenging to deal with. So, take time to figure out what is going on and how your operation may be impacted. Create headings under which you wish to view that impact and allocate these to your team to investigate. Explain that you only want facts and forecasts based on logic alone. Their direct engagement in understanding the crisis can help to calm their chaos.
2. Be the Leader.
This is a really testing time, dealing with uncertainty, being haunted by insecurity, trying not to be overwhelmed by the potential impact that a crisis may have on personal circumstances. And that’s just how your employees are feeling. You may also feel some of these and yet must remain calm so that their anxiety does not rise and block their performance. As the leader, you are expected to be more resilient than your reports and must act accordingly. Take charge and make sure you have someone you can talk to, ideally outside the business, about what you are experiencing to help you make sense of it.
3. Go ugly early.
Much of your team’s anxiety will centre around ‘how bad can this get?’ In the absence of any genuine answers to this, your team must believe that as their leader, if you had bad news you would share it as soon as you get it. Knowing that you will be this transparent in your communication of downside information means a reduction in their worry and increase in their ability to perform. Good leaders are clear, open and honest with their employees.
4. Remember your purpose.
When you’re in the middle of a crisis it can be difficult to remember what it was like before the storm hit. Work out the essential tasks that must be performed for your team to deliver and prioritise these. Build out contingencies to address any likely scenarios that might arise, the absence of key employees for example, and consider retraining team members in other tasks before a need arises. Your employees want to be busy; they want to contribute to the solution, a good leader makes sure that they can feel purposeful.
There is no doubt we are now dealing with one of the most challenging global crisis situations since the World Wars. There will be hardship and loss for many. As a leader, you must only focus on that which you can control. These are difficult times but they also present great opportunities for learning and creativity. Don’t allow your team to collapse under the weight of what is on their minds, give them the opportunity to put their minds to new tasks and skills, helping you all get through to the other side.