Navigating choppy waters is never easy. It takes a lot of courage and patience to remain calm in adversity. The COVID-19 pandemic and its after-effects have been a test of crisis leadership for many business leaders worldwide.
A crisis of such magnitude can either make or break a leader. Courage and patience apart, decisiveness, integrity, empathy, and perseverance are some qualities that can help leaders wield enormous influence on people around them, especially in times of crisis.
A crisis as big as COVID-19 can have both short-term and long-term effects on emotional and physical well-being.
Steering a team in the right direction to achieve common goals can be challenging given the complexity of the situation. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling a crisis, to lead their team efficiently, leaders should.
Efficient leading requires a hands-on crisis management approach. By being accessible, managers can help clear employees’ doubts and address their concerns on time. Offering timely clarification and feedback to coworkers can help nip a problem in the bud.
To prevent the escalation of issues that can be stressful for everyone, leaders should make sure that they’re available and accessible to employees whenever necessary. Having an open-door policy in place can benefit the organisation as well as its employees.
Lead by example
A leader can either make or break a brand image in times of crisis. Upholding company values can help leaders become effective brand ambassadors, which can eventually help a company better its brand image. Leaders who strive to do what is right, often earn a great deal of credibility.
Also, a leader is responsible for guiding employees who look up to them in times of crisis. One of the ways to do this is to walk the talk. Leaders who want to see a change in employee behaviour should become the change agent themselves.
Encourage better employee health
COVID-19 has severely affected both physical and mental health. When such is the case, organisations should encourage better employee health by implementing employee-friendly policies.
From reimbursing medical expenses to offering a comprehensive health insurance plan covering mental health and well-being, company leadership should encourage employees to choose a healthy lifestyle.
Honesty can help build trust. Leaders should be upfront and transparent, whenever possible, about their decisions and actions. If there’s something a leader doesn’t know about or is not quite sure of, then they should willingly acknowledge their unawareness.
Being honest helps build trust and credibility that can help a leader get things done efficiently.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, earned respect from people the world over for being an empathetic leader during times of crisis.
When Ardern was denied entry into a crowded cafe owing to social distancing rules, like any other normal citizen, she quietly walked away earning praise for her conduct. She was hailed for being an empathetic leader during crisis leadership.
An emotionally intelligent leader is someone who not only understands the struggles of others but is also willing to help them overcome their struggles and challenges by showing compassion and empathy. It is necessary now, more than ever before, to show kindness and be empathetic to those around us.
Conduct frequent one-on-ones
If a team has employees who are uncomfortable speaking their minds out during regular meetings, one-on-ones grant them an opportunity to openly express themselves.
Since one-on-ones are individualised sessions, leaders can also use one-on-ones to check on their employees to know how they are doing and if they need any support that could help them perform better and be more productive.
Be a beacon of hope
Spread hope during crisis leadership. Talk to your employees and try to understand what challenges they are going through. Listen to them and reassure them whenever necessary. Employees who feel reassured are the ones who feel less anxious and are more likely to be productive.
Given the circumstance, it is normal for people to act out of fear, which can have serious repercussions. Therefore, it is crucial to send out a message of hope that can help people persist. Showing resilience amidst crisis can help leaders inspire others to do their best.
The importance of adaptability to situations brings us to the relevance of situational leadership. In Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter Northouse explains:
“The situational approach stresses that leadership is composed of both directive and a supportive dimension, and that each has to be applied appropriately in a given situation. A leader must evaluate her or his followers and assess how competent and committed they are to perform a given goal.”
“In brief, the essence of the situational approach demands that leaders match their style to the competence and commitment of the followers. Effective leaders are those who can recognise what followers need and then adapt their style to meet those needs.”
Leaders should communicate openly and keep everyone informed during moments of crisis leadership. Any information that needs to be shared should be shared sooner than later. Open communication can help avoid unfavourable outcomes and save time, energy, and eventually, money.
Effective communication is not just about talking but also listening. Leaders should make the employees feel comfortable and heard. Leaders should try and have a one-on-one conversation with their employees to understand how they are feeling and what type of support they are expecting.
If certain expectations can’t be met, employers should openly communicate them to the employees. To communicate effectively, a leader must know when not to communicate. Back-and-forth communication, especially when someone is working from home, can take an emotional toll.
Working from home has its share of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is distraction. To overcome distractions and meet deadlines, employees need a structured schedule.
When applying crisis leadership, leaders can ensure employee consistency by involving employees while planning project schedules. By setting realistic deadlines and goals, leaders can ensure that the employees are consistent.
Employee consistency not only helps an employee develop a good track record at work but also helps a team achieve its goals.
Also, a leader can completely rely on a consistent performer to get the job done. When one employee consistently delivers, there’s a high chance that the others in the team will also feel motivated to perform better.
Create and stick to a task list
Leaders can benefit well from having a task list that allows them to prioritise tasks and stay organised among other things. Since coordinating with a geographically dispersed team can be tricky, creating a centralised task list can help leaders track who is doing what.
A task list also comes in handy when there is additional work that needs to be delegated. Not just that, a well-created task list also helps leaders track progress. Since leaders often work on multiple projects at once, creating different task lists for multiple projects can help towards efficient management of various projects.
Ask for feedback
Asking for employee feedback helps leaders gain insights that can be useful in coming up with newer and better ideas to manage a team or solve problems which a team might be facing.
Besides, people from different backgrounds can offer different perspectives, which in turn can enable the leadership to come up with out-of-the-box ideas and solutions.
A true leader is someone who puts up a brave front no matter what the situation is. While it is normal even for a leader to be plagued by uncertainties in times of crisis, persisting in the face of adversity can help leaders influence and encourage others around them.
A leader with a ‘can-do’ attitude can help create a positive work environment which can help everyone do their best.
Leaders who ace people management are positive leaders with the ability to counter cynicism with positivity. It is all the more important for a leader to be positive because fear and negativity can lead to chaos – which could cause discord and discontentment among the team members.
Appreciating employees now and then can motivate them to perform better. Even something as simple as saying thank you to employees can make them feel appreciated.
Besides, being appreciated reassures employees that those in leadership positions are duly noting their efforts. Employees whose efforts are recognised and rewarded are more likely to perform better and be loyal to their organisation.
Encourage team bonding
Bonding can be difficult, especially when the team members are spread across different geographies. Bringing all team members together through virtual activities can foster team bonding and improve the relationship between team members.
Activities like virtual trivia championships, virtual coffee hangouts, virtual social shuffles, and games on social platforms like Houseparty are ways leaders can help their team members bond, which in turn will eventually improve the rapport between team members from different backgrounds.
From facing ergonomic challenges while working from home to dealing with health concerns, COVID-19 has put people under immense pressure. Further, job insecurity, isolation, and unhealthy lockdown habits have shaken the confidence of many people, leading to low self-esteem.
Instilling confidence in employees requires a leader to be kind and patient. Handholding colleagues through their mistakes, celebrating little wins, mentoring, and providing proper feedback can surely help leaders instil confidence in others.
COVID-19 has been an overwhelming experience for a majority of people. It is therefore important for leaders to be more accommodating now than ever. While schedules and deadlines are important, what is more important is employee well-being.
If an employee needs some time off to handle a difficult situation – they should be given some time off.
Leaders should be flexible and accommodating whenever necessary. Being flexible helps leaders earn employee trust. Once there is trust, building and maintaining a good relationship with coworkers becomes easier.
Leaders have a responsibility in crisis leadership to identify potential leaders and mentor them so that their mentees can become good leaders in the future.
Leaders can help their mentees go from strength to strength by nudging them in the right direction. Leaders can use their experience to help their mentees develop new skills which will enable them to work better.
Employees perceive opportunities to learn new skills as perks, which can help companies develop and retain top talent in their respective industries. Organisations today are therefore more than willing to invest in the overall development of employees.
Investing in employee learning and development is a win-win situation for companies and employees.
When all is said and done, when practicing crisis leadership, leaders should also remember to pay close attention to their own emotional, physical, and psychological well-being.
Leading through a crisis is never easy, and it can take a toll on leaders too. Since making decisions under stress and duress can have serious implications, it becomes important for leaders to better manage their emotions and energy.
By practising self-care strategies like setting boundaries, taking breaks, finding a purpose, etc. leaders can destress and consequently manage their teams more efficiently in times of crisis.
Crisis leadership helps bring out the best in a leader. A crisis allows a leader to walk in others’ shoes, which can make them see and support employees’ needs through tumultuous times.
An empathic leader not only provides the necessary support during crises but also helps others by instilling confidence and encouraging best practices to efficiently navigate crises.