There are simply no right words or readily available playbooks that can tell us which direction to take for what we are facing now. We are in a global crisis.
Many leaders are grasping at straws trying to wrap their arms around the magnitude of these ever-changing circumstances, which are continuing to unfold at a rapid pace.
As a leader, I've learned you can't control what's happening during a crisis, but you can control how you respond. During this critical time, leaders must exhibit a host of varied skills and the eight attributes outlined below can help, if you are in the free fall of crisis:
As a leader, I know that I need to convey feelings of hope to my team, which is slightly different from optimism. Hope is a feeling things will turn out for the better instead of an absolute assurance that they will.
That nuance is important because none of us know what the future holds, but we can use hope as fuel to power through the challenging times and control our outlook of the situation.
2. Grace and Compassion
It's important to acknowledge this is not business-as-usual and you are operating in extraordinary times. It's also essential to both give yourself grace and extend grace to your work community as well. Demonstrate that you care about your employees' well-being.
Leaders tend to be much harder on themselves than necessary, given the expectation they must have all the answers. The reality is, leaders also face self-doubt and indecision as they strive to find solutions. So, give yourself a break--and your team, too.
Too often, I've seen leaders have an extreme bias for action and, in the process, sacrifice thoughtfulness for speed. I'm not downplaying the need for swift action but it shouldn't be the enemy of effectiveness. I make it a point to think through actions and possible outcomes.
I like bringing in more voices at the onset, as I'm able to better understand what might happen and that allows for crowdsourced ideation. Moving deliberately, gaining consensus, and developing all possible workstreams allows you to accelerate actions with greater precision and controlled speed.
4. Patience and Calm
In times of crisis you must have patience with your team, as you would for yourself. The Covid-19 crisis is new for both you and your team, and everyone is adjusting to the unusual circumstances and environment. The range of emotions and reactions will vary. People are looking to you for signals on how to respond--if you lose composure, it will most likely lead to unnecessary panic and undue swirl. Self-regulation is key.
The old adage "hope for the best and prepare for the worst" applies here. Preparing and mapping out all possible scenarios can create a semblance of internal assurance. As a practical matter, this approach allows for greater agility as you respond to any crisis.
Strive to keep to a routine at all costs to reduce stress and enable stability. Stress can make anyone act in abnormal ways and may cause leaders to become unbalanced. To gain stability, reframe how you look at stress so it doesn't take over your life or focus.
Believe in yourself and your team. Teams function best when trust is strong, and trust is often the foundation of high-performing teams. Distrust can erode and cause breakdowns which will cascade throughout the organization. During these critical times, be sure to lean on your team for strength to push through.
According to Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last Deluxe: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't, "leaps of greatness require the combined problem-solving ability of people who trust each other." A fundamental aspect of leadership is not to go it alone but instead leverage the power of your team to weather the difficult times together.
Messaging matters. A great message and a poor messenger are a bad pairing. It's important to align the message to the messenger so that the communication lands as intended. Consider including other voices to share portions of the message so your staff can absorb what is being said and the message lands appropriately.
Henry Kissinger may have put it best: "The task of the leader is to get their people from where they are to where they have not been."