Building strong leaders in times of crisis
As we continue to face a pandemic of colossal magnitude, there is still much uncertainty around the crisis and what happens next. However, what we do know is that leadership is now more important than ever and requires leaders to adapt and change quickly while also inspiring their employees to rise to the cause. Leadership is not a title; it’s a state of mind. As such, everyone can become a leader.
For those looking to step up and lead through a crisis, it first starts with great communication. While face-to-face communication might not be possible at this time, it is still important to keep communication lines open and communicate regularly with teammates. A recent survey we conducted around the coronavirus found that organizations are using a variety of vehicles to keep employees updated on the crisis. Communication tools include daily alerts; daily or weekly email updates or group check-ins; virtual town halls; team meetings via WebEx, Skype, and Zoom; information portals; and YouTube videos. Whatever form of communication you choose, it is important that you’re able to provide information that’s specific to the company, as well as relevant government information.
It’s also important to ensure that everyone is heard and has an opportunity to voice and raise their concerns. Regular, one-on-one check-ins can give employees the opportunity to ask questions they might not be comfortable asking in a larger group setting and give leaders a chance to really listen to the thoughts of their employees. Studies have shown that leaders have a special role in reducing employee anxiety, as many employees felt that it was important to hear the voice of the leader, whether live or through email, phone messages, and social media.
Setting these check-ins and keeping employees as up-to-date as possible will go a long way in boosting morale and helping ease employee’s minds during a time of much uncertainty.
We’re in this together
Next, it is key for leaders to show empathy. Leaders should acknowledge the emotions and concerns of their employees while also helping to address them. While this is undoubtedly an emotional time for everyone, it is also important to toe the line between leader and therapist. As such, leaders should simply listen and allow space for the person to process their feelings rather than trying to manage their emotional difficulties. It does not require asking for more detail or exploring why the person feels the way they feel.
One way of doing this is by adopting coaching techniques to practice empathy with their employees. Start each coaching session by aligning on a focus for the meeting. Aligning to a shared purpose at the start will serve as a north star for the discussion and enable you to bring the coaching conversation back to your focus topic should it veer off course.
In practicing empathy, leaders should take time to learn about the resources offered to employees by the organization. Many company benefit packages include employee assistance hotlines and medical plans that cover therapy. Being familiar with these services will make it easier for leaders to refer an employee who is in emotional distress to a qualified provider.
While the world suffers through the current global crisis, many employees are looking to their managers and organizations at large for guidance related to both their careers and their current emotional state. Following these tips can help leaders practice empathy while also striking the right balance between listener and therapist so employees can still feel supported and guided without crossing any lines.
Keep lines open
Similar to open communication lines, another key to a great leader is being transparent with employees. The news is changing every day, so no one is going to have all the answers. To prevent breakdowns in communication, keep employees updated on what is going on even if there is nothing new to report. Maintaining transparent lines of communication during a crisis will help ease anxiety employees may be facing and keep the organization running. For leaders, this is the best way to show good faith to employees, express empathy, and show genuine concern for your team.
Set a positive tone
Last, exude positivity. With every cloud, there is a silver lining, and while we find ourselves in an extreme situation, it’s important to remain calm and positive. Encourage employees to check in with each other and share stories that will help lighten the mood. These can serve as good substitutes to the in-person experiences that occur in an office and keep employees connected while they are apart.
Leaders should also make an effort to inspire employees and give them a sense of direction for the future. They should signal with their words and their actions that the organization is moving forward with conviction and courage, which helps with creating a positive attitude amongst employees.
There is no certainty as to when this crisis will pass, or how we will be impacted, but we do know that we as a society will emerge stronger from it, with leaders who are ready for the next challenge.