We are living in a new world. COVID-19 has turned everything upside down. The way we do work will forever be changed. There will be a seismic shift in telecommuting, office design, and how people interact with one another.
At the forefront of these changes will be leaders. Effective leaders will adapt and adjust. They will be able to anticipate the future and make adjustments that will drive success for their people, teams, and organizations.
We are in the heat of the crisis right now. How leaders respond during these difficult times will determine how their people handle change and uncertainty. Skilled leaders offer perspective during challenging seasons. They hold things steady. They provide stability and consistency. We can’t change what’s happening around us right now, but this crisis will reveal who the true leaders are.
To understand how leaders need to respond, we first have to understand how people react to a stress. When a crisis occurs, people lose focus. They reduce their communications. There are increases in anxiety and paranoia. People have difficulty managing their emotions. Work productivity decreases. Employees start talking and spreading rumors. People begin to get depressed and lack motivation. The convergence of these factors has a negative impact on performance.
So, how do leaders need to respond? There are five things that leaders need to do to combat employees’ reactions to a crisis:
- Good Leaders Keep Lines of Communication Open: People are hungry for information right now. They want to know if they are going to be ok. Safety becomes the number one priority. This is followed by security. Is my job safe? Will people get laid off? How will our company survive? Leaders need to seize early opportunities to communicate. Share the state of affairs. Discuss how the organization is responding to the crisis—internally for employees and externally for your customers. You have to be honest, open, and transparent. You may not have all the answers right now. None of us do. Share what you know. Keep people informed. Communicate early and frequently.
- Reassure Your People: Employees need reassurance today. As a leader, you need to help people, lift their spirits, support, and serve them. You have to generate feelings of trust with your teams. Can they count on you? Do they know you have their backs? Can they come to you for support? Employees need to feel a highly personal presence and connection with their leaders. In my new book, What Every Leader Needs: The Ten Universal and Indisputable Competencies of Leadership Effectiveness, one of my chapters is devoted to compassion. It matters now more than ever. Compassionate leaders impact people through their communication, social awareness, and relational intelligence. You have to put yourself in your peoples’ shoes and empathize with them. This will go a long way. It will make people feel that you have their best interests at heart.
- Provide Guidance and Direction: When a crisis occurs, employees want strong direction from their leaders. They want people to set the course and provide steady guidance. Vision setting becomes critical. How can you rally your people around a shared purpose during these times? What can you focus on to bring people together? How do you tie the company’s mission to what people are dealing with today? The vision has to be clear, but you need to focus on short-term goals and objectives. People don’t have the energy, focus, or attention to think long-term right now. Give them weekly or monthly goals. Simplicity matters. Start with the basics. Encourage people to offer their insights and perspectives. Make the vision a collective effort. People will buy-in, and it will give them something to focus on during the crisis period.
- Remain Flexible and Adaptable: Adaptability is critical right now. Companies are having to adjust to what’s going on around us. I’ve seen this the most with my restaurant and hospitality clients right now. They have had to rethink how they serve their customers. Curb side pick-up. Deliveries. If they did not adapt, they would fail. Many have adapted and are still struggling. Then there are the working from home challenges. Some employees have young children. Some are taking care of elderly relatives. Some are not used to working from home; this is all new to them. You have to acknowledge that working from home is a challenge. You have to empower your people to do their work the best ways that they can. These are times when innovation and creativity can play a role in how your people and teams conduct their affairs. Encourage your employees to think outside the box. Are there different ways to reach you customers right now? Better ways to do their work? Remember to remain flexible with how people get thing done.
- Set the Example for Others: Great leaders model the right behaviors for others to follow. They practice what they preach. They walk the talk. People value and appreciate leaders that they feel a connection with. When you model the right behaviors it promotes togetherness and resilience. When your employees see you going the extra mile, it will inspire them to do the same. You have to remember that most of the things that make a good leader come from within. You need to live out your values and beliefs. You have to be authentic. You also have to serve as a mechanism for hope right now. Optimism and hope are two different things. Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the faith that together your team can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue. Hope is an active one. Good leaders offer hope because they are willing to do something together with their people.
What you do as a leader right now matters. Put these things in place if you haven’t already started to do so. It will help your employees get through this challenging and difficult season. It will strengthen the resolve of your organization. Then, you will come out of this crisis better than you were before it even happened.
Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is the Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a boutique consulting firm focusing on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.
For more information about this or other leadership topics, visit our website at www.bandelliandassociates.com.
Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.