How to Lead During a Crisis

Many leaders are forced to think and behave in ways that feel unfamiliar when leading their crew through a crisis. Regardless of whether it is a technological, financial or health crisis; crises demand that leaders take an immediate emergency response plan and adapt it as new evidence presents itself.

Effective leaders are people who are able to remain calm and maintain a sense of perspective during these times. One of the main goals during a crisis is to reduce loss and keep things operating as normally as possible. Here are some key things to consider when leading through a crisis:

Seek Credible Information

It is the responsibility of a leader to determine the most reliable, up-to-date information from trustworthy news sources. These are not times to obtain information only from social media, and one needs to be wary of any news organizations that have a political, financial, or activist agenda. Consult state and local health services, where you can find advice on how to prepare and take action.

Use Appropriate Channels of Communication

Once the necessary information is gathered, it should be shared with the entire organization by every means possible. Transparency is a key factor when leading through a crisis. Information is what keeps an organization running smoothly, especially during a crisis like Covid.

Information is extremely important because it:
• Reduces emotional distress caused by the unknown
• Helps lessen fear
• Provides guidance
• Shows employees that their leaders are concerned, knowledgeable, and keeping on top of the situation

It is important to communicate face-to-face first, whether in person or virtually. There are many great tools out there for hosting and personalizing virtual meetings. Quarantines don not have to stand in the way of your team coming together face-to-face.

Important information should be handled with the 3 Rs: review, repeat, reinforce. If you only share information once, you cannot assume that everyone has received it or understood it. Repeating and reinforcing information daily (by various methods) helps it to sink in and be retained.

Explain What Your Company is Doing About the Crisis

During a crisis, time tends to shrink. At the onset of a crisis there is immense pressure to act — and do so quickly. Sometimes you have to begin tackling a problem before you have a real idea of what is really happenin

If you are the leader, take charge. Be proactive; take initiative. Do something even if it might be wrong. Not doing anything or over analyzing is riskier. As you make your decisions and take action, communicate those actions truthfully and honestly.

For example, with the coronavirus, you might choose to reduce air travel, ask people to work from home, place hand sanitizer around the facilities, and frequently clean high-trafficked areas or objects and surfaces. If you change your response, keep employees updated with the 3 Rs.

Remember that everyone living through a crisis views it through their own viewpoint. For example, a paramedic will see only that a hospital is overloaded; a hospital administrator will only know that the generator isn’t working. No one will have a complete, accurate picture of the entire situation.

Be Present and Available

Leaders should be accessible during a crisis. It is not always possible to walk around your facility and talk to co-workers but let employees know how they can best reach you with their status updates and questions. It is especially during a crisis that employees have a need to hear from their leaders frequently. When leaders appear calm, concerned, knowledgeable, and in control, workers feel are more likely to have confidence that things will be fine.

Dedicate Organizational Resources for Future Crises

As a crisis transforms from its urgent phase, the time pressure will ease, as will the need for immediate decisions. At that point, the plan must change into a more complex one that looks at recovery and getting things back to normal — whatever that may look like.

If another crisis unfolds in the future, will you be prepared? Most leaders will admit that crisis planning and setting aside resources for a crisis are important. But experience shows that key resources are rarely placed in reserve for contingencies at most companies. And, if a company has put some resources aside, they’re usually inadequate.

While we cannot plan for every event, thinking and team-building exercises can be built into a training program that prepares everyone for a similar, future crisis.

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