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How to Lead Through a Global Crisis

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As people everywhere grapple wit the pandemic, leaders everywhere are facing a global crisis.  Fear is pervasive right now and it’s safe to say that no one is 100% focused on their job – there exists a lot of distraction. Employees have now spent weeks working from home, perhaps homeschooling, contending with income loss, concerned about access to basic necessities… Leaders can’t provide easy solutions to this enormous problem, so what can we do in a time like this?

1. Don’t ignore it!
There is a tendency in some to “keep calm and carry on”. In ignoring the obvious obstacles and anxieties surrounding the team, you run the risk of seeming out-of-touch, or worse, unconcerned with their welfare. Business, as usual, is obviously impossible, so insisting on it creates more uncertainty and does nothing to instill confidence in leadership. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and start by sharing yours. Expose some vulnerability and show the team you are sharing their experience. Then create an action plan to address what you can.

2. Provide an empathetic ear.
Employees with children may need more flexibility in the face of closed schools. Others may be worried about the health and safety of elderly or distant relatives. Some had long-planned and much-deserved vacation plans ripped out from underneath them. Wedding plans scuttled. Fears of impending layoffs may start to circulate as the crisis persists. Now is the time to ease concern where you can, and listen earnestly where you can’t. People look to leaders for comfort when circumstances become uncertain. While no one assumes we have it all together ourselves, we can do our best to be authentically understanding.

3. Remind the team of past success
As frightening and unprecedented as this global pandemic is, this is not the first, nor will it be the last, global crisis. Perspective is important, and while it is true that “new normals” may emerge as a result, it is also true that “this too, shall pass”. If your team has endured hardships in the past, it is important to remind them of what they have overcome. No, we haven’t faced this exact threat before – but let’s be sure to focus on the resilience, innovation and adaptation we’ve shown in the past.  

Team Success

4. Redirect anxious energy
Feeling stuck in a routine (as the world seemingly crumbles around you) can create anxiety. Is there a project your team can work on together, that may lie outside the normal day-to-day? Rebuild a website, plan a product launch, dust off your disaster plan, clean your customer data, perform competitive deep dives – identify an ambitious purpose around which people can rally. 

4. No one expects you to have all the answers
The secret is out – everyone knows that you are human too. Being there for people might be enough.  Providing a comforting ear or shoulder does not mean you need to have all the answers. It’s okay to be vulnerable and honest, if you don’t know what to say. As Brene Brown put it in her book Daring Greatly, “Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”

5. Take time to be human.
As a leader, people look to you to be a steady hand navigating uncharted territory. It can be extremely stressful to be the one that everyone turns to. Being understanding often means taking on the feelings of others – this is draining and mentally challenging work. You too are uncertain of what tomorrow brings, and you may be weighing difficult decisions that you can’t share around your company’s position or plans.

At this time, it can be easy to let your own routines lapse, but it’s very important that you don’t. Make time to take care of yourself and your family too – exercising, eating healthy, checking in on loved ones, and getting enough sleep are not selfish acts. Self-care is exactly what will allow you to continue to be there for others.

Lastly, don’t panic.

The most important thing is not to panic – there’s enough of that going around. Panic is not productive. Even if you don’t know what is going to happen, you have to trust that this time of uncertainty will pass. All we can do is try our best to remain calm, provide calm and comfort where possible, and remember that everything is temporary.

We are, truly, all in this together and I know we will find a way to make it through.

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