What is clear to me is that many leaders are still unprepared to handle communication during a crisis, and most important, to lead when times get hard. Instead of focusing on what to do during a crisis, I thought it would be helpful to focus on what not to do.
Here are three behaviors leaders should avoid during a crisis.
1. Don't be a superhero.
It's natural for entrepreneurs to want to step up and take action when a crisis occurs. It's part of their DNA. But if you take on too much, it will easily lead to burnout and undesirable results.
In one episode of The Last Dance, the new 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls, coach Phil Jackson told Michael Jordan to pass the ball to John Paxson when he was open during critical drives. Jordan listened and relied on his teammates to perform, and that's a big part of the reason he is who he is today.
Founders and leaders need to do the same. You have a team for a reason. Write down the areas that you need help with, and ask for team members to step up with creative ideas or solutions.
2. Don't be too optimistic.
Depending on the size of your business, I think during a crisis it's a shared responsibility to get everyone to help. And the only way to do this is to be transparent about the real financial situation of your business.
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson issued a companywide message via video last month, and it's one of the most honest, transparent messages I've ever seen a CEO give during a crisis. It ended with a bit of optimism, but didn't try to avoid the truth: Marriott has lost more hotel bookings than it did during 9/11 and the 2008 crash combined.
To manage employees' fear and anxiety, you must tell them more than what you're used to telling them, even if the truth is hard to swallow. I believe most leaders should tell employees how much revenue they've lost, what their real revenue run rate is, and what the options are to move forward, even if it involves layoffs.
Some people might disagree with this approach, but otherwise you show too much optimism without sharing information on the real impact on the business. People will start doubting the real situation since it's hidden, which will lead to more fear and anxiety. It's time to be real, not optimistic.
3. Don't be brave.
I see so many messages to founders to "be brave," and I'm not sure what that means. What are our other options? To just accept the crisis and lie down? Instead of being brave, the real answer is to be creative and curious.
It's time to start evaluating your options for the business and what other creative solutions are available for your company. What business models can you pivot into while this is happening? How could you change the structure of the company to match what's going to change because of Covid-19? Be curious and start exploring all of the different approaches you could take.
Think about what creative options you could use for marketing. How could you bootstrap marketing instead of using paid media? All I know is that being brave isn't the answer. We are all naturally trying to survive during this time, and being curious and creative could separate your company from the rest.
It's a hard situation for entrepreneurs, employees, and leaders everywhere. As you manage your company and team through this pandemic, make sure not to make the same mistakes many leaders have made.