Leading Organisations Through the COVID Crisis
Sharon Mulligan
March 28, 2020

We are now experiencing a reality where many businesses are struggling to cope and survive the impact of the COVID 19 crisis. Leaders are focusing on keeping the next few weeks and months calm and steady while trying to assess and plan for the long term. The following are three of the most common concerns that we are coming across in our work with various business leaders.

  1. How do you, as a leader, keep morale and motivation high within your workforce while keeping your business operating?
  2. How do you demonstrate strong and effective leadership when your people are experiencing fear, uncertainty and heightened levels of anxiety?
  3. How do you keep your people feeling safely connected to you and to each other during this critical period?

In this article we offer some practical tips and insights for leading with confidence and effectiveness during times of crisis.

Common leadership challenges and how to deal with them

During these challenging times there are some common traps that can very easily derail you and distort your clear thinking and judgement. The following are some typical traps and tips on how to avoid them.

  • Controlling impulsivity – in times of danger or crisis our brain is primed for fight or flight and we can easily make errors of judgement based on fear and panic. Make sure you think through your decisions and how to communicate them, fully, ensuring that you have considered the full impact of your decision for your teams and for your business.

Top Tip: Watch out for your impulsive language and decisions as losing your cool or your temper can generate a sense of panic and uncertainty with your staff.

  • Retaining the loyalty of your people – If you are asking your people to make personal sacrifices to safeguard their jobs and your business, are you the first person to lead by example? If your company endorses values like respect, integrity and transparency, are these values manifested in your decisions and your everyday interaction with your teams and your people? Your leadership traits and values will rise to the surface now more than ever. They will test the quality of your relationships, the health of your resilience and your ability to remain focused and effective during enormous challenges.

Top Tip: Stay true to who you are as a leader and as a company. Treat your people with dignity, respect and absolute fairness and they will value your leadership and who you stand for as part of your company brand with loyalty and belief.

  • Showing your vulnerability – your people defer to you and want to see you at the helm, navigating and steering the business through this storm. It is important to strike the right balance between allowing your people to witness your vulnerability, feel connected to you and trust you. It is also important to buffer them from the weight and pressure that you carry on your shoulders.

Top Tip: Be honest, clear, and transparent with your people. Bad news is very hard to deliver especially when there is no immediate or clear solution. Honesty will help you set clear expectations of your people while telling them what to anticipate in the current circumstances to help them prepare for change.

  • Build your own support network – seeking support and having good, trusted sounding boards is imperative for good leaders even at the best of times. Use peers and mentors to find your own sources of support and sustenance especially at a time when you are constantly giving of yourself. Also, be mindful of the risk of cascading your insecurities onto your people.

Top Tip: Set up regular calls with your trusted circle to decompress and be open about your own fears and anxieties. This may also be the place where you can access strategic and commercial guidance for your business.

  • Emotional isolation – the current reality can bring about challenges for each of us as we depend on interaction and familiarity to feel trust and comfortable with those around us. The risk of burnout is high for leaders in these situations due to the prolonged nature of the situation.

Top Tip: You need to regard the situation as a marathon and not a sprint. Your energy needs to spread out consistently over several months before you can breathe freely. Create strong and consistent connections that offer you a source of guidance, direction and emotional sustenance.

Running your business remotely – mobilising your people operationally has been at the forefront of everyone’s modus operandi over these past few weeks. We now enter a new phase of setting new parameters and realistic expectations to guide our teams and individuals while they operate under their new norm of working remotely or at the office with reduced numbers of staff around them.

Top Tip: Grab the opportunity to increase task-based efficiency and to think outside the box as people get used to remote working. This could include:

  • Setting up initiatives that focus on business improvements of processes and operational efficiencies.
  • Upskilling your people in using IT systems more efficiently as we typically use a very small percentage of all the internal systems such as CRM’s, accounting systems etc.
  • Encouraging your people to use online learning methods or request study time to do formal qualifications to keep them mentally agile and strong while also delivering value to your business over the longer term.

Address the emotional and psychological impact of the COVID crisis directly – whether employees are still physically at work or working from home, people need to feel connected, supported and cared for. Initiatives in this area could include:

  • Encouraging and recognising collaborative efforts from your people because teamwork and collaboration are known to be great morale boosters.
  • Providing opportunities for people to connect albeit virtually or at a distance so that you avoid emotional isolation and disengagement from the work community.

Top Tip: Every so often, forget the task list and create the virtual platforms where people can meet and share stories, offer each other support and celebrate happy moments.

In conclusion, we know that none of the above will magically make everything better. However, our suggestions will help you to build confidence, trust and courage. As a leader, now more than ever, you need to be a beacon of hope at a time where things seem to be falling apart. The human spirit can overcome enormous adversity and in the current situation it can be regarded as our most important asset. It is therefore important that you tap into your own and your people’s resources to garner all the strength and resolve to emerge from this crisis and rise to the occasion.

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