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5 Key Strategies to Lead Through a Crisis

1. Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Some More

Before you even begin to think about external messaging to your customers, communicate a baseline of facts with your employees. Instead of relying on the emotional (and potentially slanted) media to provide you with the evidence you need, gather it from trusted sources and then share your insights through multiple channels, as people receive information differently. 

You may think that because staff members are no longer sharing the same workspace they are not gossiping. In actuality, it has merely taken a new form – migrating from the water cooler to texting, emailing, and phone calls. As misinformation works its way through an organization, it will only grow and become more challenging to counter. 

That’s why it is vital for leaders to communicate in a clear, concise, relatable, timely, and consistent manner. Proximity is key in these situations, whether you are connecting through written communication or using your cell phone to record a short video every day. If you are not communicating with your company and team, I guarantee they are getting information from someone (and it is likely based on emotion rather than fact).

2. Define reality

An extreme situation like a pandemic requires you to be as transparent as possible and to communicate updates in real time. 

To steady the ship, you must define what is happening rather than run the risk of employees hearing it third-party or after the fact. While your instinct may be to shelter people from fear and anxiety, in times of crisis defining reality is key. This builds the bridge of trust between you and the team. It will solidify to the team and stakeholders that you have a grasp on what really has and is happening.

John Maxwell suggests that leaders must stay “above the crowd.” This means you must maintain a broader perspective so that you do not get blindsided by the short-term situation and emotional drama. Be clear on what remains unknown and uncertain. Since negativity is a compounding emotion, the more you share negative emotions the more they compound and impact your attitude and organization.  

3. Present a vision of hope  

A leader’s job is to deliver hope for the future and to remind staff that the pandemic will pass. Of course, this does not involve minimizing the situation or implying that there will not be pain and anxiety along the way. No one will get through this unscathed. The important point is to understand and accept that this is going to change us all, but that we will adapt and play the cards we have in our hand to grow and learn from the experience. 

Many leaders and companies have already suffered huge losses and are saddled with long recoveries ahead. However, if you only relay your point of view and the impact the pandemic is having on you, then you won’t be able to relate to or empathize with your team. After all, most employees are only thinking about how this situation is impacting them and their families. That isn’t selfish, it is human nature. Fear forces us to look inward before we look outward. The more you can prevent a loss of momentum and morale, the faster your team and company will recover. In other words, if you can prevent the flywheel from completely stopping, it will be easier to accelerate the engine of your organization. For this, I recommend discussing what the possibilities and opportunities could be.

4. Embrace your team as part of the solution

One of the most important things any leader can do is engage their team by communicating at the same time each day. Even communicating through online platforms can help you to keep in touch and move challenges and ownership from me to us. The more you can normalize operations, the steadier the ship will be. 

Related to this, the more heads you have engaged in solving a common problem the better chances you will have of arriving at an all-encompassing solution that can yield a positive outcome. Leading your team members, who are – in turn – leading their staff can compound your effectiveness and amplify your messaging. This is when your leaders will rise to the occasion.

5. Start to plan for rebound and recovery

During a crisis, a leader’s words and actions are more important than ever. While the timeline of the pandemic remains unknown, we must begin to prepare for a recovery. Phrases like “if we make it” or “I don’t know what we will do” will never inspire hope and recovery. 

No doubt, it will be hard to embrace the future during these trying times. Still, it is vital to ask your team what the recovery could look like and what resources will be needed during the rebound period. This will engage positive energy and ideas about rebuilding. 

To be clear, I wouldn’t put this task on staff as theirs to figure out. Rather, I would broach the future in a consistent cadence to keep them focused on moving forward. 

Fortunately, some companies will rebound quickly and will capitalize on opportunities that the rest of us cannot anticipate today. A well-known quote from the legendary American basketball Coach, John Wooden summarizes this point best: “When opportunity comes, it's too late to prepare.”

Above all, remember that we will not manage our way out of this; we must lead out of this.


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