For most leaders the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis unlike they have ever experienced. Their roles have dramatically changed from focusing on driving revenue and gaining market share to making rapid decisions about controlling costs and maintaining liquidity.
They are encountering supply chain issues, resource shortages, and operational challenges. All the while, they and their teams are navigating health and safety concerns, working remotely, and supporting their families through the pandemic.
This is not an easy transition for those in charge. They will be tested in areas where they have not had to flex their leadership muscles and the learning curve will be steep.
While different challenges require different responses, here are five practices that can help you lead through this unsettled time.
Choose speed over precision
The situation is dynamic, so much so that it is changing every hour. Effective leaders absorb this information and quickly define priorities. In these times, employee safety and care, financial liquidity, customer care and business continuity matter the most. Ensure that your business is fully aligned to these goals, and take action accordingly as and when the situation arises.
It is important to take rapid action rather than harp on any small mistakes that are committed.
Effective communication is a must
Do not create a message that lacks consistency – it will just add to the hysteria and panic.
In times of crisis, most business leaders have a tendency to sugarcoat the reality. Instead, it is important for leaders to show transparency in communication with employees and customers. If uncertainty exists, it is best to be open and convey it without mincing words.
People can sense deception very quickly, which in turn, is likely to reduce your credibility. Leaders must also connect with their teams at least once a day and share information on what is happening and how the situation is unfolding.
Communicate from a space of empathy and compassion, and try to understand and support your team through these tough times.
Build a network of teams
In certain cases like a factory fire, executives at the senior level can direct a predefined response. But in situations like the current outbreak, it isn’t possible for an executive group to collect information or make decisions quickly. That’s why a strong network of teams is of utmost importance that understands the significance of collaborating efficiently across teams.
Some parts of the network can pursue actions that take place outside regular business operations. Other parts identify the crisis’s implications for routine business activities and make adjustments, such as helping employees adapt to new working norms.
As a leader, you might want to always be at the front and centre. Being the first person to sign in and the last sign might show that you are committed and hard working, but it also depletes your energy and when you are low, it is difficult to be accessible, patient and level-headed.
If you follow this route, then your employees will feel that they must work to the brink of exhaustion. Yes, there are situations that require us to push our boundaries, yet a prolonged crisis like Covid-19 is anyway taking a toll on our mental, physical and emotional health.
A good leader must emphasise on the importance of good self-care and how rest and recovery are equally significant. When you step away from work, you must truly step away instead of checking emails even during your time off. That’s how you can inculcate a good work-life balance amongst your employees, even during this crisis.
Adapt in a bold manner
At this point, it is best to make a decision regarding what your business does not want to do. For instance, there may be several large initiatives and expenses you want to continue with, but you must prioritise what must stay and leave at this point.
It isn’t necessary that what worked yesterday will yield results today.
You must also strengthen or build direct connections to the frontline. It is critical to know what is happening on the ground, whether you are running a supply chain or overseeing manufacturing operations for a company. Getting timely situational assessment is important.
A crisis situation is never easy, and it reveals a great deal about leaders too. Once the immediate fire is doused, try and think of how your employees handled the situation, those who dealt better and those who struggled and why. Also, consider how roles will change in a post-crisis world.
Lastly, try and make some small investments in training your employees on how to handle a crisis. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine!