I was recently invited by my friend Louie Banta, one of the country’s best trainers, to guest in his company LJMB Online‘s HelloWorld Podcast. I want to share some key talking points as well as other thoughts I was not able to cover during the podcast. Hopefully these can spark some ideas in leaders and readers during these times.
It has now been more than 200 days in the world’s longest lockdown, and ways of working as well as leadership challenges have dramatically changed. They say it is much easier to lead when times are good. But how should leaders lead during a time of crisis such as this pandemic? How can leaders adapt and ensure that they continue to lead effectively?
Firstly, leaders need to be an island of calm in a sea of chaos. People will look to their leaders to take control of the situation. They will look at them for queues. They need to be able to provide stability and a sense of security especially in an unstable environment. Imagine how they will feel if they see a leader who is panicking and have seemingly lost control.
Like a lighthouse, leaders need to provide direction to ensure everyone is moving in the same path. While people may have more than the usual time on their hands while working from home, leaders need to ensure that they actually spend time doing things that are value-adding to the team. They need to help people prioritize tasks and plan work in an organized manner. In a crisis situation, a leader needs to be more direct than usual. People will understand and appreciate this.
Decisiveness is critical. Leaders need to realize that time is of the essence and important decisions need to be made at the right time. Having said this, they have to make sure they gather inputs from their team. They do not have all the answers and this pandemic is new to everyone. While leaders need to make the tough calls, they should be based on facts and different perspectives, so they are grounded and rational. As some decisions will impact not just business but likely livelihoods as well, they should be mindful and intentional when arriving at key decisions.
A time where we rarely have face to face interactions is also a time to constantly communicate. People need to know what is happening in the organization, so they don’t become anxious. A regular update for teams is useful, but communication needs to be done in a simple and straightforward manner whether through online town halls, email, or sms. Keep in mind that people are being bombarded with so much information from several channels nowadays. Communication must be crafted well so that the main points don’t get lost along the way.
In a time of crisis, leaders need to be inspiring and motivating. Think about how Winston Churchill rallied his country during a critical point in World War 2. Or how Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a model of hope and inspiration after 9/11. Closer to reality, observe how lady leaders of New Zealand and Germany are successfully managing COVID 19 in their countries. Leaders need to be dealers of hope when times seem hopeless.
What about possible pitfalls of leaders during times of crisis?
Leaders may fall into a tendency to manage a crisis in a similar way that they managed everything pre-crisis. I remember Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. Leaders can’t lead exactly the same way as they did prior to this crisis. Perhaps either through hubris or overconfidence, leaders may fall into a trap of “been there, done that” and not be agile and flexible in their leadership style.
Call people only if it is really urgent, but otherwise use sms and email to communicate. Be wary of too much viber or whatsapp groups. Too much info and excessive messaging can contribute to unnecessary stress. Unless absolutely important, try not to message after office hours or during weekends and holidays to allow people much-needed focused time for themselves and their loved ones.
Another suggestion is that instead of doing hours-long meetings online, why not do it in one hour ? As long as there are pre-reads or pre-work done, people can use valuable online time instead for decision-making and alignment. Be conscious that it’s more difficult for people to concentrate and understand each other in an online setting. This may be due to several factors such as reliable internet connectivity, lack of a quiet place at home, and other constant distractions that may happen during the meeting.
Leaders also need to be more empathetic in managing their teams, and realize that they are most likely juggling several challenges while working from home. During times of crisis leaders need to employ more soft skills such as compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence. Leaders who put themselves in their people’s shoes can likely manage them better during these unusual times.
People are also looking for more trust and empowerment. Without sacrificing accountability for results, try to provide more elbow room for people to be productive. Don’t count the hours or monitor screen time. Instead, agree on deliverables and appraise performance based on those agreed parameters. Leaders need to treat people as the adults they are.
Finally, I humbly share my advice to leaders in top management as well as frontline managers, based on observation and experience. These advice are actually interchangeable and applicable to both sides.
For senior leaders, take good care of yourselves. It’s hard to make the right decisions or maintain patience and a calm demeanor when you lack sleep or are often sick. Be wary of burnout as you navigate the crisis. Stay healthy not only physical but mentally by setting aside time for you to do things you are passionate about. May it be mindfulness, listening to your favorite songs on Spotify, watching your favorite Netflix shows, or engaging in your hobbies. We need to take care of ourselves well before we can take good care of others well. And when we take good care of our people, they will in turn take good care of our customers and our business.
Next is that we need to be humble enough to seek advice from other people: experts, peers, or even friends and family. Try not to solve everything by yourself, and leverage on your team whenever you can.
For frontline managers, this is a great time to get to know your team members more intimately and really connect and nurture your relationships with them. Understand their personal circumstances better, without unnecessarily intruding into their privacy, and you can lead them better.
Now is the perfect time to give back to your companies and employers by working doubly hard and taking care of your people as well as internal and external customers. Provide innovative and creative solutions to problems whenever you can so the business not only survives but thrives.
Leadership is about bringing people and the business to a better place, and there is no better time for leaders to step up than during a time of crisis.