We are all in the midst of one of the most unique events the World has experienced, the magnitude and impact of which is close to that of the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the 2008 financial crash. One of the biggest issues we will all have to deal with is uncertainty… Will I have a job once this Covid-19 is beaten, what about the serious financial impact, my health fears and ultimately fear itself?
It is in these times that true leaders of organisations need to step up and actually lead. For the majority, this will be the greatest crisis they will have had to deal with in their lifetime or that of their organisation’s history. Crisis is a real test for every leader. In these situations, as a leader, it is often useful to take a moment to reflect on other tough times in your career/life that can be used as a reference i.e. how did you cope, how did you approach the problem, what worked and what lessons did you learn that may have some relevance to this crisis that you now face. In this situation Coaching can be of benefit.
Leading in a crisis is different – a crisis by definition is “A time of intense difficulty or danger”. In a crisis you may be short of data, and very likely short of time which means you may be “flying blind”, but you will still be expected to make decisions which in many cases will affect many people – who as we have stated will have their own fears and concerns to deal with.
As such, a leader has to act to protect their employees, their company and their customers.
You may already have a strategy, a vision etc., but it may be that this was not the strongest or had been well tested. You may have survived more by luck than a solid strategy and vision should have provided. However, you are now in a crisis and all eyes are on you, therefore you need to re-assess and set a clarity around a vision and plan of action to get through it. In doing this you need to have and display a great deal of resilience. You will likely need to adapt quickly to changing conditions and situations – customers may no longer be there, suppliers may be weakened, key employees may not be available etc. You may then have to show a willingness to trust in your intuitions and experience. The values, beliefs and principles you hold may be tested greatly and you may have to have hope and faith in what you do and are about to undertake.
As a leader… don’t wait for others to save you. It is highly unlikely that this will happen, therefore it’s going to be down to you.
A key task as a leader is communication and as such you need to be out-there … all the time delivering the right message. A key is to be honest … people want to know – they are adults, treat them as such. Be transparent but ultimately, give them hope. Once they realise what is happening in general, they will rally around and help. Show empathy and be human. Use all the tools and methods available to communicate – in person [the best and preferred, but multiple sites and geography may make this impossible … to say nothing of the distancing requirements imposed on us in this current crisis], Town Hall sessions [also very useful], and of course as we are all learning – the use of technology e.g. Zoom, Teams, SMS, WhatsApp, video messages etc.
People need to know that their leaders “are with them”. You cannot let someone else do this.
It may seem crazy to say but this is not really the time to be focussing on the bottom line. Your future in the immediacy of a crisis – and especially Covid-19 – is about what’s right for your customers and employees. You may have to [as indicated above] completely re-examine your business model. No-one is suggesting you needed to have predicted Covid-19 but you will likely need to forensically and honestly examine your Strategy, Vision, Risk Profile, Contingency and Succession Planning [a devastating outcome of Covid-19 is that key personnel may not have survived who were vital to the business, but no back-up/succession planning was in place]. These five areas moving forward will also need to be stress-tested on a periodic basis so that a tick-box approach and mentality does not allow for future failure. There will also likely be a requirement for greater flexibility and review of some of the bureaucratic practices that potentially have crept into your business. If one thing has emerged in these very tough times it is that people and businesses can be very flexible, responsive and creative therefore a review to assess the true need for certain historic practices will more than likely throw up opportunities to emerge in a more responsive position.
It may also be the case that you will observe “stars” emerge who, when the times were tough, really showed a level of leadership themselves, previously not noted or appreciated – keep a look out for this. Finally, having been forced by necessity to adopt, learn and use new technology it may well be that a more relaxed, flexible and human approach to work i.e. working from home can emerge where people, being trusted are able to deliver with increased productivity and quality of output.
Although while we all currently face a crisis, with reflection, honesty and openness to new ideas and ways of approach, a better future can emerge.
Therefore, in the circumstances as noted above not only has the leader to be strong and to help the organisation move forward, a good leader recognises their own needs and as such can access the use of a professional coach to work with them – hopefully before such events arise and as such better prepare the leader to understand their own strength, areas that may need developed and in a safe and confidential format work with a coach to explore these, to maximise the strengths and to appreciate how others may react to the way that the leader communicates and sets expectations. In doing this the leader gains firstly insight into themselves – always a good thing, but as importantly appreciates that we all do not think and behave the same way. Therefore, appreciating that in differing circumstances and dealing with different groups a more balanced and aware approach will achieve the end result in a more bought into and positive manner.