Until a few weeks ago, the leading companies were focused on driving revenue, leveraging innovation and gaining market share. But suddenly the scenario completely changed with the onset of the COVID -19 pandemic. Supply chains sputtered to a halt, factories closed their doors, and out of necessity, businesses around the globe shifted their mindset from growth to survival. Amid this huge transition, the roles and responsibilities of business leaders have also changed dramatically. Being a leader in a business no matter how big or small is no easy feat right now.
When you have a clear picture of the future and a robust plan, showing the direction to the team is an exciting challenge. But with unprecedented uncertainty ahead, exhibiting strengths and leading the team becomes a different ball game. Especially, when you have evolving markets, struggling employees, and customers that are looking to you for answers that you don’t have, leadership becomes extremely difficult. So, how to lead the team in these difficult times? Though there’s no specific game plan for how to act as a leader right now, there are certainly a few strategic actions that leaders can take to successfully navigate through the challenging times.
Hold the Line between Honesty and Reassurance
One of the most important things a leader needs to do, especially in times of crisis is to project confidence even if you don’t have all the answers yet. When crisis strikes, everyone looks up to their leader for reassurance. So, in such a scenario, as a business leader, you need to address the unknown and speak confidently.
This doesn’t mean you will close your eyes to reality and just say ‘Everything is going to be fine.’ Being a leader you also need to be realistic. So, the key is to tread a fine balance between reassurance and honesty while stating the magnitude of a situation. You have to convey the seriousness and the potential impact of the crisis on your organization. But at the same time, you need to assure them that everyone is in this together
Quickly Adapt and Make Decisions
In these difficult times, when more than money is at stake, there’s immense pressure on leaders to act — and act quickly. As a leader, you need to quickly evaluate all the facts at hand, rapidly determine the best course of action and make decisions with conviction. Employee safety, financial liquidity, customer care, operational continuity—there’s a lot to focus on. So, outline the priorities and redefine the goals. Develop new plans to suit the needs of a situation and regularly revisit your strategies to achieve the desired outcomes.
Create a “We-can-do-It” Environment
It’s an imperative time for you as a leader but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. This is the time to call on the resources, trust the capabilities of your team members, and bring them together to overcome the crisis. Provide a clear view of what may happen, what you plan to do in this situation and what your people can do. Assign a potential role to everyone and inspire them to work towards the shared goal. Engaging employees in this way will not only encourage them to efficiently contribute towards the goal but also keep their minds off the rumors mill.
Look Through a Lens of Empathy
The chaotic situation like this is bound to create panic. Being locked up at home and working remotely while supporting the family through the pandemic can be overwhelming for employees. Hence, it’s more important than ever for leaders to take care of the team and show empathy. It is critical to communicate thoughtfully and help them stay focused as the organization navigates through the changes the situation presents. Also, in this trial and error period, mistakes will be made and some might face more difficulty in adjusting to the changing situation. So, being a leader, you need to understand their circumstances and distractions and help them to overcome their challenges.
Use the Crisis as a Stepping Stone to Enact Change
Albert Einstein once said that “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” So, take this adverse scenario as an opportunity to bring fundamental or structural changes to the organization. Together with your teams, you can discover new ways to add value to your existing customers, identify new customers and even develop a more efficient operating model to reshape your business. This can be a unique opportunity to acknowledge responsibility, take ownership and do better.
If you are reading this, you might be in a position to lead in some way. It might be a tough time for you as well. But remember, the leadership abilities are truly put to test during the moments of crisis. It’s the difficult times that distinguish the good leaders from the mediocre. So, keep your calm and make every effort possible to help your team endure through this historically challenging time. And once the storm passes by and you have a moment to catch your breath, reflect on your approach. Ask yourself— if a similar catastrophic situation unfolds in the future, will you be prepared?