Before the coronavirus outbreak brought the U.S. economy to a screeching halt, things had been going so well for so long that many leaders probably didn’t have to think about how they’d lead their teams through a crisis.
All of that has changed quickly, with more than 6.6 million people filing for unemployment benefits this week and many companies in almost every industry at least considering staff furloughs or layoffs, so the way you lead them through these unchartered waters could determine how you come out of this mess.
“The leaders who are the most successful find themselves in a space to move their organizations forward,” said business consultant and keynote speaker Mike Staver during a webinar, “How to Lead in Times of Crisis.”
“Leadership requires the courage to stare reality in the face and encourage those you lead to do the same,” he said during the hourlong session. “The people you lead need context.”
Staver’s context for crisis leadership is that, no matter how bad things seems today, everything we’re going through is temporary.
“All of us are either coming out of, going into or in the middle of a difficult period,” said Staver. “How do you navigate the times of crisis, when you’re dealing with intense difficulty, trouble or danger?”
The difference between an optimist and pessimist, he says, is largely defined by how they view difficulty and success. Optimists, he says, view success as a sign of sustained good things and difficulty as temporary, while pessimists expect difficulty to last and success to be more fleeting, Staver said.
“Right now, leaders are going to have to deal with multiple things that have nothing to do with the virus except that the virus triggered them,” he said.
Dos and Don’ts of Crisis Leadership
The best leaders will provide their staffs with most or all of these four basic human needs: certainty, significance, esteem and freedom or autonomy, said Staver.
In addition, leaders who are looking to help their teams navigate a crisis should steer clear of ambiguity, speculation, denial and abandonment. Leaders should focus on self-care, connection, service and planning during crises to bring some stability to their lives and those of the people who work for them.
“Leaders can’t be tone-deaf,” said Staver.
Leaders who are looking to excel in crisis leadership at any time—not during just the COVID-19 pandemic—should remain rationally prepared and future-focused, avoiding speculation at all costs, staying grounded in reality while preparing for the recovery.
They should be optimistic and connected to the people who need them most and making sure they’re responding to those people’s needs.
“Do something now that allows you to be prepared for when things are better,” said Staver.