Leading through a crisis
The scale and impact of the Coronavirus has been felt by businesses, their leaders and employees across the UK and wider world.
Leaders were forced to act quickly in order to protect their workforce and the future of their business.
It is no easy task to lead in a crisis, particularly one as unprecedented and widespread as this. The disruption and mass uncertainty caused by the crisis have been some of the biggest challenges for leaders.
A leader’s ability to rise to these challenges will have a significant impact on how their business will fair in the long term.
But what does strong leadership through a crisis look like?
1. Establishing Response Teams – Traditional hierarchies of leadership often become irrelevant during a crisis. Instead, information and insight at all levels of the business is required in order to form an effective response. Empowering employees to work in teams and giving them actionable tasks, specific to their skills and knowledge will mean information can be collated more quickly and efficiently. A crisis, particularly one like covid-19 is highly complex and therefore requires expertise from people in all parts of the business to pull together and work on solutions as a collective.
2. Being Open Minded - The status quo has gone out the window temporarily. How staff go about their day to day jobs has changed, how businesses interact with their customers has changed and the priorities of the operation have also changed. For this reason, it’s important that a leader has an open mind about their approach. Drawing upon the knowledge gathered by the response teams and encouraging innovation will help to develop an effective strategy for keeping the business moving. Removing any blame culture will also give employees more confidence to be creative in their thinking.
3. Communication – Strong communication is more important than ever during difficult times, even if the answers aren’t always available. Employees will be feeling a range of emotions, with many working from home for the first time. Keeping in regular contact, providing clear updates and ensuring that employees are kept informed about the decision making process will help to keep them engaged. With so many communication channels available, it’s sensible to be consistent in the way key updates are delivered so that no one misses vital information. Updates should also be delivered rationally and be evidence based, avoiding speculation as much as possible as this can heighten anxiety.
4. A Positive Approach – Employees will be looking to their leaders for motivation and support so leading by example is essential to people focused and positive. Remaining calm and rational in the face of uncertainty will reinforce confidence across the team, making them best placed to succeed. By empowering teams to deliver innovative solutions, and uniting people with the ethos that everyone is in this together, employees will be more motivated to take on the challenges ahead. During difficult times it is even more important to share success stories and celebrate small wins to keep momentum going and morale high.
5. Honesty and Transparency – Employees will remember how they’ve been treated at this time for months and years to come. Hiding the truth from them, no matter how hard it is to accept won’t work in the long term. A good leader trusts their team with the truth but is also able to make important decisions, in line with the values and principals of the company. During a time of crisis, employees are often expected to work harder and make sacrifices of their own whether this be their work-life balance or a financial sacrifice. With this in mind, employees are owed the truth and leaders who show them it are often more respected and trusted by their workforce.
Leaders are often expected to have all the answers, but the truth is, in the face of uncertainty those answers are often not there. No leader is immune to the fears and concerns a situation such as this one raises but being able to admit that and still be able to keep a team united and drive it forward, is what makes a strong leader.
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