Working in a crisis

Even in the best of times, being a leader can be challenging. Now the shock generated by the COVID19 virus has produced new and unexpected challenges that have left many leaders struggling to adapt. Moments like this have multiple and varied impacts. Some organizations and businesses are experiencing unsurpassed demand and it has taken an unparalleled effort to keep up with it. Other businesses are scrambling to stay afloat. Make no mistake about it, the pandemic has affected virtually everyone, leaders and associates alike. You could argue that in these times everyone in the organization needs to demonstrate leadership as enterprises adapt their strategies, business models, and operating systems to rapid change.

Five strategies that inspire great work during a crisis

Working on a laptop

Regardless of whether you are a formal leader or not, there are five powerful things that you

can do right now to inspire people to do their best work in times of crisis and to help shore up engagement and commitment. These best practices for leading in a crisis are based on observations and data collected over the past four decades as successful leaders have negotiated difficult situations like Y2K, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the 2008 financial crisis that led to the Great Recession, and the current coronavirus pandemic. Taking the following steps doesn’t take a lot of time or cost a lot of money, and yet they can generate measurable results.

Number One: Genuinely acknowledge and demonstrate appreciation for your associates, colleagues, and team members.

Go beyond recognizing good work. Let people know they are valued members of the organization for their character, dependability, and loyalty as well as their actions and commitments that support the business.

Number Two: Keep an open-door policy.

Let people know you are available and encourage your team members to speak with you about any of their concerns, fears, hopes, or aspirations. Be present and really listen. Make an authentic effort to develop emotional connections. You can’t solve all of the big problems today, but the point is— they don’t need you to. They just need to know you care about their wellbeing.

Number Three: Give people opportunities to contribute.

Empower them to lead projects and make decisions within their capabilities and talent. In essence, engage people in the important work that needs to be done by giving them meaningful tasks and the latitude to solve problems. When you trust people to be responsible for significant work, they feel valued in difficult times and show greater dedication to their roles and responsibilities.

Number Four: When things go awry, maintain your composure and lead with a steady hand.

If you lose control of your emotions and go into a full panic mode, so will they. When you give up, they will give up. You need to anticipate and plan for difficult scenarios while staying optimistic and looking for the silver lining in challenging times. Good leaders find opportunities in adversity and go to work on taking advantage of them.

Number Five: When things seem to be falling apart, smart leaders help people feel connected and part of something bigger than themselves.

They remind everyone of the overarching purpose and vision of the organization. People want to belong and feel they are part of a team with a common cause. Good leaders help them see how they fit and why they matter to the organization’s mission.

There are a few defining experiences in every formal or informal leader’s career. How you lead during a crisis is one of those pivotal moments when you can choose to buckle under the pressure, become a tyrant, and generate even more stress or you can shine through the darkness, uplift people, and unleash motivation in those you lead. Follow these five guidelines and you will be amazed at the results. When you bring out your best in a fateful moment, you become a role model and source of inspiration for others. People are willing to endure more and do their part as work becomes a place of hope and promise for the future and then, one way or another the organization will come out the other side and find itself in a better place.

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About the Author
Steven Stowell, Ph.D.
Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth.

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