Leadership in a crisis: Being calm and realistic

Leadership in a crisis: Being calm and realistic

April 24, 2020

With the pandemic’s commercial impact worsening day by day and uncertainty reaching ever new heights, businesses and their management are facing much more than just a three month blip. Instead, the disruption may stretch into 2021 for some of the worst hit sectors. Government guidance is proving an unreliable framework and the media is full of rumour and false information. It is vital that managers step into this dangerous void to provide a trusted source to confirm realities for their workforce and to inspire them as they battle with the extreme changes to their business and personal lives.

This leadership guide aims to help managers to play a positive role throughout the crisis and create the stability that staff crave. By doing this, they can be major part in holding the business together, protecting its value and making it ready to take advantage of the recovery, when it finally starts.

Get control of your emotions

A crisis as extreme as this one, posing an existential threat to whole business sectors as well as to ways of life, creates extraordinary psychological pressures on us all. Inevitably, we all feel agitated and distressed. Children and animals are extremely adept at picking up negative emotions in adults. So are your staff at times like this.

Managers must remember that they can control their own emotions better than they realise to present a calm face to the world, both within their businesses and outside it. All it takes is a bit of basic self-awareness: go through your own emotions and commit to some easy mental self-maintenance. Do your very best to get enough sleep; trying to think clearly with an exhausted mind is doomed to failure. Eat as healthily as possible and whatever the pressures and worries, don’t skip meals. Alcohol is a huge temptation but is more likely to induce mindlessness than inspiration. One simple trick: when stress is at its greatest, remember to take a deep breath and pause for further thought before confirming important decisions.

Avoid being hasty

Wanting to come up with quick solutions to the problems created by the crisis is a natural instinct. There may very well be some easy wins from time to time, but a steady flow of well-considered initiatives and decisions will inspire far more than any amount of manic barking of tsunamis of panicky, knee jerk orders to bewildered staff.

Take your time, think things through. A useful self-discipline is not to worry about the things you can’t influence. Ask yourself: can I do something about this? If the answer is ‘no’, then move on to another issue. If the answer is ‘yes’, but not now, have the patience to wait until the right moment.

Talk to other people

You don’t have to do this all by yourself. It’s not just ok, it’s wise to consult. Others will have ideas, thoughts that can help you. They may well see a particular situation from a completely different angle and have just the off the wall solution you are so desperate to find in the midst of the chaos.

Manage both realities and expectations

You should spend time in understanding the realities of the situation in which the business finds itself. Then you need to acknowledge them publicly and show people that you appreciate the seriousness of the situation. The worst possible thing is to peddle delusional platitudes to your staff. There are no blue skies right now and you shouldn’t tell your people that they’re just around the corner.

What you must do is communicate clearly your analysis of just what the situation is, how you intend to deal with it, explain how they can help. It’s essential to admit uncertainties and most of all, not to promise anything that you can’t be sure you can deliver.

Show that you care

Empathy is much over used term, but there has never been a more important time to put yourself in the position of others, share with them your concern about the problems the business faces and say you want their help to find productive ways to resolve the issues. It changes you instantly from ‘the boss’ to another human being working through the same issues with the common aim of not just surviving, but thriving too. Don’t be worried that it will reduce your authority, quite the opposite. It will create a sense of trust that will add to your leadership.

We all make mistakes – admit them and learn the lessons

You must repeat and repeat regularly to yourself the crisis mantra: not every decision can be the right one. You will make mistakes, goodness knows you’re leading a business through a crisis beyond all living memory and experience. It’s vital that you don’t overreact when things don’t turn out as you expected, especially if they are honest mistakes made by others. This isn’t the time for blame, all managers should learn from errors and move on.

Most of all, don’t avoid decisions in case you get them wrong and don’t eliminate all risk from your thinking process. If anything, this is probably a time to take more risks. Doing this, provided you explain to people your thought processes will create a sense of resilience around the business that will be invaluable in steering your way through this storm.

Leadership responsibilities in a crisis can be as invigorating as they are terrifying, but this can often be a dangerously lonely role. There’s no shame in seeking out help and support from a trusted advisor, a mentor or someone with specific experience of a problem with which you are wrestling.