Something we commonly hear in motivational speaking, especially in the Western world, is that in Chinese the word for crisis consists of two characters – one represents “danger” and the other “opportunity”. Whether this is true or just a misperception as some linguists believe, we get two dimensions from it. That in any crisis situation, you can either succumb to pressure or remain positive and see the hurdles you’re facing as opportunities to learn and grow.
Similarly, when it comes to leadership, there can be two types of attitudes or responses – taking ownership of the challenges and taking a balanced approach to handling the situation, or getting panicked and giving in. As a leader, you’re trained to keep your company up and running by keeping your employees productive and satisfied, and your clients happy. However, the real value of a leader shines through in times of crisis. A true leader will always realize the importance of putting people and the spirit of humanity ahead of business needs.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged the leadership of many business executives with extraordinary demands and beyond. What makes it challenging for leaders or executives to take action is the wide range of the outbreak, the unpredictability of having the virus, and the humanitarian toll taken by COVID-19 which really created fear not just among the employees but also among the other stakeholders.
But during this crisis, having a predefined response plan is not what leaders need. Instead, having the right mindset that will stop them from pressuring themselves too much and help them look ahead and just make the most out of the current situation we are all in.
In a crisis situation, the following leadership tactics will help you come out alive and stand out as a great leader.
1. Face up to Challenges
As they say, the first step in a crisis is to realize and accept the reality for what it is. It is a difficult step especially at the onset of the crisis. But if you keep yourself in a denial mode and sweep the problems under the rug, you’ll never be able to take control of the situation. Bravery is another name of leadership; good leaders first and foremost acknowledge an emergency when there is one, and this helps to keep them gathered and avoid getting panicked.
When you face reality with courage, you’ll be able to think straight and take the right steps according to the need of the hour. Instead of becoming hysterical and getting frustrated, you will be able to assemble a task force and evaluate the situation properly. For instance, as the owner of a software development house, instead of turning a blind eye to the on-going pandemic situation and resuming your routine schedule, ideally, you will give preference to the safety and convenience of your employees.
As a leader, you have to put in mind that during a crisis, you have to largely improvise effective responses. From instituting work-from-home policies or if you have ongoing business practices then you take action in making adjustments such as acquiring new tools to aid collaboration among team members, which can be beneficial even after the pandemic ends.
2. Value Your Employees
It’s natural to become self-centered and prioritize personal benefits in tough times. But remember that good leadership calls for a caring and respectful attitude towards your workforce. It’s normal to be nice and encouraging towards your employees when everything is going smoothly, and you’re getting results. However, valuing your employees, even more, when the situation is not favorable, shows your true colors as a leader.
The distinction between a “good leader” and just a leader can be noticed during challenging times. With the COVID-19 scenario prevailing everywhere around the globe, it is an ideal time to show to your employees that you still value them. By keeping them updated about your business decisions, even “over-communicating” when appropriate, you can leave a lasting impression on your employees about your transparency and leadership capability.
3. Foster Open Communication
We’ve all heard it plenty of times – communication is key to success, and this is a downright truth. More so on an organizational level, where there are several individuals and teams working together towards a common goal. The importance of effective and transparent communication cannot be underestimated, and a leader is responsible for ensuring this.
Ineffective and weak communication can cause misunderstandings of all sorts and can have extremely damaging effects. Miscommunication can occur due to a variety of reasons, including:
- Ambiguous expectations leading to minor issues being ignored
- Overload of information causing messages to be left out
- Bias and grouping mentality obstruct clear communication
- Fear of being accountable due to highlighting a problem
- The know-it-all attitude from leadership positions
To successfully carry out your leadership responsibility, you need to facilitate No Surprises Management (NSM), by keeping the channel of communication open for all.
Oftentimes, crisis communications from leaders are unsuitable. In the early stages of the crisis, some leaders tend to project being overconfident which can raise concerns or suspicions from their employees on how their leaders are handling the situation.
In order to avoid this, communications to your employees must be open and they must be aware of how you handle the crisis by being transparent. As Amy Edmondson recently wrote, “Transparency is ‘job one’ for leaders in a crisis. Be clear about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.” Even after the crisis has passed, communications should not stop.
4. Be Adaptive
With changing times and circumstances, executives need to adapt quickly and be equipped with the capability of making important decisions efficiently, when required. Executives must have the skills and wisdom of leading their teams transparently and consistently. They must have the courage to take the right course of action at the right time and be able to create a stable environment for everyone.
An adaptive leader is focused on producing quality results no matter how disruptive or out-of-line the situation seems. Thus, as a leader, some of your primary goals should be to unlock your employees’ potential and use it to drive innovative solutions, even in the face of stressful circumstances. Your adaptability will be the cause of transforming the apparently disadvantageous scenario into one full of opportunities to grow.
One way to also show that you are an adaptive leader in times of crisis is your ability to delegate responsibilities to your employees. You must empower them to take action in your crisis response, which means that they will be more involved in making decisions and in implementing them even without asking for approval. For clear accountability and effective decision making, as a senior executive, you should establish a structure at different levels for the appropriate point persons.
5. Be Calm Amidst the Chaos
Another great tactic for successful leadership is to stay calm, focus on what is under your control, and consequently what matters the most. Your presence as a leader who’s there for the staff is something very valuable and brings in a lot of benefits. When you prioritize your goals with a humanitarian perspective, it not only gives you inner clarity and assurance but allows you to think long-term and look beyond just the business gains.
Great leaders look for the best in everyone, accept others along with their faults, and acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and should be given chances for improvement. This is because they are in control of their emotions and have gained a level of peace within themselves to recognize what matters.
6. Remain Optimistic
Finally, a true leader is expected to exude positivity and be emotionally intelligent as well. The former will enable them to remain in control and handle situations confidently, while the latter will allow them to lead their people with empathy. Having an upbeat attitude can make you push through even the most difficult circumstances with ease and dignity.
There is the term “bounded optimism” which means confidence combined with realism. Leaders having and showing excessive confidence early in the crisis in spite of very obvious difficult situations may lose their credibility. It is okay to show that you acknowledge the crisis and the uncertainty that comes with it rather than projecting you are confident that the organization will get through this tough situation. As showing confidence will encourage your employees, it may also make them feel scared and worried. Projecting confidence and being optimistic will be more effective when you have accepted the crisis situation and started taking action on it.
Here, the example of Rudy Giuliani, the Mayor of New York, is noteworthy. In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, he was able to gain the trust of the anxious and distressed masses. He maintained constant and clear communication and his endeavors were extremely reassuring.
Crises bring out the best and the worst in people. However, leaders must remember that their role isn’t just to increase their bottom lines but to get the people moving in the right direction, which is a great responsibility.
Arslan Hassan is an electrical engineer with a passion for writing, designing, and anything tech-related. His educational background in the technical field has given him the edge to write on many topics. He occasionally writes blog articles for Dynamologic Solutions.