The government’s recent shutdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak has led to nearly every business facing the challenge of how to continue operating effectively. For many managers, it will be the first time trying to navigate through a crisis.
Although it is an uncertain time for many businesses, leaders have a responsibility to guide their employees through the crisis with authenticity, resilience and a vision for the future.
Here are my top tips on how to be an effective leader during a crisis:
1. Stay calm and lead with confidence
In any crisis, anxiety and fear can run rampant, leading to decreased productivity and team morale. This climate leads to many employees looking upwards for reassurance. Leaders must show decisiveness and practise self-certainty – which has been shown to help people keep calm in adversity.
The NeuroLeadership Institute found that the more stressed you are, the less clearly you think. So rather than letting anxiety spread, let your sense of calm influence your team and help them maintain focus and productivity. Don’t let fear of making the wrong decision mean you don’t make a move – lead with confidence, even if you don’t have all the answers yet.
2. Create a vision for the future
With an uncertain future, employees need someone to provide a vision for what is on the other side of the crisis. As a leader, you must show that you are focused on the overall trajectory of the business, and rally the troops towards a shared purpose.
This frees up their time and mental capacity to focus on their tasks at hand rather than worrying about the future of the company. Providing a shared sense of purpose also lets employees know that everyone is in this together – even while physically apart – and builds stronger team bonds.
3. Practise agility and trust your team
Despite a crisis situation, leaders must ensure that the organisation is still operating, even if it’s not business as usual. Maintaining continuity means being able to practise agility, which many businesses have had to do in recent weeks. This involves ensuring you have the right digital tools for remote access, updating flexible work policies, and implementing new communication processes.
Not only do you need to be inventive with how you operate, you need to empower others so they can bring their full potential to the table. During the COVID-19 shutdown, even though you can’t see your employees faces at the office everyday, give them room to operate and trust that they will get the job done. With agility, teams can move forward with speed and autonomy.
4. Be authentic and put people first
In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to lead with your heart, not just with your head. Especially if the situation has the potential to affect your employees personally, like the COVID-19 virus. So put your people first, and ensure they know you have their backs.
Ensure that your team knows when you’re available and on which channels e.g. text, call, Slack or emails. Letting them know you are free and willing to chat through any concerns or issues will make them feel supported. Having an emotional connection with your team means they are more likely to be right behind you through the crisis and out the other side.
5. Communicate openly and honestly
Effective internal communication is vital in any crisis. Even if you don’t have all the answers, ensure you are being open and honest with your team. When there is a void in information, the uncertainty rises, leading to speculation and rumours among employees. So be transparent and up front about the situation.
Given the fluidity of the current crisis, keep everyone updated as things change to alleviate any sense of panic. Although we are still going through daily updates to government policy and restrictions, we can look to other countries for a guide on outcomes of the virus, and mitigation strategies. With China returning to a sense of normalcy, we can all see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Kris Grant is the CEO at ASPL, an Australian Management Consultancy and Recruitment firm.