Crisis Leadership: How to Manage and Lead During COVID-19

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic shifted our attention to the subject of crisis leadership. The sudden disruption of businesses and the economy left us all clueless. Nobody had a contingency plan or a handy manual about what to do when a global pandemic strikes us all.

Every crisis is different and unique in its own way. 

As stated in research by Harvard Business School, there are two ways to look at it. A true crisis event and a routine emergency event. A routine emergency event is something you have seen before and are familiar with the courses of action. But, COVID-19 is a true crisis and an unpredictable situation that gave us no time to prepare for the worse. 

Now, over a year has passed since the outbreak of the pandemic and some things have changed drastically. The corporate world has gone through a reset. Remote work is the new norm. With more people working from home and isolated from everyone else, they are likely to face burnout and have a hard time managing work-life balance.

In such times, people want certainty. They want to feel secure and positive. It is times like this that test your true capabilities as a leader. 

So let’s look at some of the key qualities that you must incorporate in your leadership style to help you tackle a crisis with ease and calm.

1. A Sense of Calm and Stability

Times of crisis are scary. Be it a natural disaster or a severe downturn in revenues. 

In times like this, people often look up to their leaders in the hope of getting the answers to “What do we do now?”. They look for clarity and a way to regain their confidence.

You, as a leader, must be the anchor that people hold on to and look for assurance. You must be the first on the frontline and be there for your people. Address their fears and present practical solutions. A leader must provide a sense of stability, a clear direction, and most importantly, hope. A hope that things are going to get better.

 2. Timely Quick Decision Making

Unprecedented times call for quick decision-making and making tough calls. Making a quick decision is extremely crucial but making the right ones are equally important too. A decision made in haste, without mapping out the pros and cons, can do more harm than good.

Strategic decision-making is the key in crisis leadership. Organize a framework that feeds real-time problem-solving.

Make your decisions based on facts and not gut feelings. It is important for you to be far-sighted and ask yourself what could be the worst-case scenario of a decision not working in your favor. 

 3. Adapt and innovate

Leading in a crisis situation calls for constantly evolving with new strategies and methods. What worked before might not work now. So it is always a good idea to keep pace with the changing scenario and be prepared for unexpected challenges.

Crisis leadership is not about coming up with the best ideas at the right time. It is okay to not know the answers all the time. Effective leaders are the ones who think about sparking ideas and innovations among the team members. Don’t hesitate to reframe, reallocate, and replan what you have been doing for years.

As the legendary Bruce Lee once said “Be like water. Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless like water.”  So whether it is within your comfort zone or outside, adapting to your changing environment and circumstances is a sure way to win.

4. Clear Communication

Communication is so critical when people are physically disconnected and working remotely.

88% of employees believe that frequent communication from leaders has been effective during the pandemic. Communicating decisions and priorities in an orderly and timely manner is crucial in crisis leadership. 

Also, try to communicate on a daily basis. Keep everyone on track and updated with the latest developments. Make sure you make your message as clear and transparent as possible and also follow a need-to-know basis. This will ensure there is no place for miscommunication or confusion.

In crisis-based communication, listening is just as important as getting your message heard. Listen to what your team feels and thinks about a situation or concern. It helps you gauge the opinions of your workers and get an idea of how everyone is doing.

5. Teamwork and collaboration

Leading in times of crisis demands collective efforts and working together as a team. The “one-man army” logic seldom works in crisis management. So don’t shy away from asking for help when you need it. Share your thoughts and ideas with the team and get their voices heard.

Getting regular inputs from your team members will also get you a better picture of a situation and help you take quick decisions. 

Disengagement, detachment, and gradual panic will disrupt your employees’ peace of mind. It is crucial for you to pay attention to the mental well-being of your employees. It is also your responsibility to help the team stick together and practice effective team-building. Organizing a team meet every now and then, or having a virtual Friday Fun Time can bring back lost connectivity and make them feel they still belong.

6. Compassion and Empathy 

We are emotional beings. One of the things that people miss the most during these times is human connection.

Feelings of workplace loneliness and detachment are prevalent in remote work life. Many have reported having depression, anxiety, or stress.

There are also other reasons apart from their work-life which adds to their distress. Many of our partners have lost their jobs or had salary cuts. Many have faced the deadly coronavirus. The rising inflation of basic commodities and unexpected medical bills are overwhelming for everyone.

Understanding and empathizing with your team members will make your workers feel more connected to you and your organization. Show them you understand and care about them as much as you care about your company. Tell them how you feel as well so that they feel they are not alone. It will result in employees who are loyal and invested in your company and prove to be a powerful employee retention strategy in the long run.

7. Growth Mindset

Last but not the least, having an optimistic growth mindset can pull out a person from the darkest times. Every hardship leaves us teaching something valuable. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth and improvement. 

It can be difficult to stay optimistic when you see all the doors closing and getting most of the answers as “no”. But it is not an excuse to do nothing. Try to be realistically optimistic. 

When I say realistic optimism you must try to be a 360-degree thinker and map out all the possibilities and opportunities that you can grab. Rely on data and information from credible sources and then prepare for future actions. When you are optimistic about the future with valid reasons, people will have faith in you and your decisions.

A great leader sees the light when nobody else does and illuminates the way forward for others to follow. Instead of going through the crisis, you must grow through the crisis. 

8. Keep yourself updated

Little knowledge is a dangerous thing. With the endless fluctuations in the market and economy, it is of utmost importance to keep yourself on your toes all the time. Read articles and reports on the current situation rigorously. Stay updated and educate yourself on different skills and tactics that can help you pivot your business in times of uncertainty.

Hunt for opportunities, track down every single possibility that can work in your favor and add more value. Being stuck at home is not an excuse to do nothing. Keep learning and sharpening your skills when you have the opportunity and time. 

In Conclusion

Crisis leadership is not something that can be developed overnight. Look at the paramedics for instance. They face a crisis every single day in emergency rooms or otherwise. But seldom you see them getting panicky or lost. Most of the time you see them maintaining their calm and composure. Their actions come naturally to them. They know exactly what to do in those times and get the situation in control.

So whether it is a crisis or not, your overall leadership style must incorporate the above qualities until it becomes second nature for you. To prove yourself as a great leader, you don’t need to face a crisis every time. You do not need to be a business owner or hold a certain leadership position. You must practice these skills in normal life even outside your work. 

But also remember to give yourself a breather once in a while. How will you lead and manage your team if you yourself are not feeling the best? So empathize with your team, give your best and take care of yourself. Because this too shall pass!

Author Bio

Thadoi Thangjam is a content marketer and digital marketing executive at Vantage Circle. When she’s not geeking out over content strategies, she is probably hunting for the next perfect track to add to her playlist.

Do you want to write for us? Read our guest post guidelines here!

Related Posts