Leadership during a crisis is like driving through a stormy, foggy night. Nothing makes leaders, more uncomfortable than having to navigate with low visibility, against strong headwinds, and unable to anticipate what lies ahead, let alone planning for them.
Because that's the state of affairs in a crisis, leading with ambiguity is a skill that one must be equipped with. Moreover, what will keep you in good stead for lack of predictability of the situation is your purpose. Couple that with agility or responsible speed and we are talking about a concept of velocity, that is, moving quickly with a direction in mind, which is guided by one’s purpose. We all need help ourselves and help our teams to learn how to move with velocity. It is also about building the capacity to actually act without a plan, relying on available data and drawing inferences quickly.
A clear sense of purpose shared across the organization is key to making the right decisions, weighing the risks to be taken, and deciding quickly on the best course of action in an ambiguous situation. It helps us decide why we are doing what we do and make course corrections when faced with setbacks. It helps us keep the safety and well-being of employees above all and doing our best in a given situation in the interests of the customers, society and the shareholders.
Also, moving with velocity allows us to prioritize when we're faced with tradeoffs as it happens always in a crisis. It allows us to prioritize and know how we're supposed to think about the right choices with those tradeoffs.
Leadership is always about establishing an emotional connection and using your persona as an instrument to get things done. So, in times of crisis, it is important to step back and ask yourself how are people viewing me and what vibes do people get when they are with me.
In stressful circumstances, the leader should make them feel cared for and empower people to deliver what they need to do. In the broader sense, this will be a question of what your culture is. In addition, it is important to ask does your culture make people comfortable to tell you what they think? Needless to say, if your culture doesn’t encourage that level of candor, it is time to build it in.
It is also important to note that crises reveal unknown sides of yourself and the people you lead- both hidden weaknesses and new-found strengths. So, some leaders are discovering what they are not so good at and make it a point to build or strengthen those capabilities. As leaders, it is paramount to identify talent within their teams with innovative ideas and hidden leadership capabilities and make sure their potential is unleashed.
In these trying circumstances, leaders also are discovering that individuals who used to seem very open-minded and adaptive are now appearing quite closed and tentative. I think you're going to learn things about your teams as about yourself. And that could be a blessing in disguise.
Crises are the times when the most seasoned people managers can be overwhelmed by the pace of things happening around it is the leader’s responsibility to step in and help them gather themselves to deal with the situation. While there is firefighting to deal with the crisis, we can’t afford to neglect our focus on crucial deliverables which many others may be dependent on.
Many leaders keep track of those individuals who are actually stepping up and taking on responsibilities, rising to the occasion and think that "when we go back to normal, we don't want to forget these people and leave their potential untapped”. That is good for all.
Finally, instead of getting battered by the situation, one needs to focus on setting the stage to prepare your organization to be agile and built for the future with the ability to lead with ambiguity and perhaps even thrive on it. Because you can't plan when you can't see much ahead, you have to build the muscle to deal with it. I think one thing we're going to learn from the current crisis is that organizations and leaders that can thrive in adversity are those who are very agile and innovative not necessarily the ones which are caught in complex, laborious planning.