Effective Leadership in Crisis

In early March, seemingly an eternity ago, I visited a client’s office to catch up.  One of the firm’s senior leaders greeted me in the hallway with a smile and elbow bump. I wondered in the moment if I should do the same. Yet as I walked down the hall, out of habit, I shook people’s hands, made small talk in close confines and grabbed a cup of coffee from the communal coffee machine. 

The client, a CEO of a manufacturing and distribution company, initially asked to meet to analyze strategic initiatives and hiring practices. Within minutes of our meeting, the conversation turned to the coronavirus. As we discussed her thoughts about how her business would respond, the gravity of the situation began to set in. That elbow-bump suddenly felt appropriate. In that moment, the CEO started leading in crisis.

In the forty-five days since, businesses everywhere were thrust into a different reality. Questions of adaptation, modification and survival required immediate action. People everywhere instinctively assumed roles of leadership, making difficult decisions and acting courageously. Our client’s response was no different – she made uncomfortable decisions to save the business, pivoted their focus and acted bravely to reassure her team. 

Bell Leadership’s experience with thousands of leaders from all over the world highlights the importance of effective personal behavior in the face of rapid environmental change. Below are some guidelines to help you navigate your people and your organization through crisis:

  • Lead with Calm: In times of uncertainty and chaos, people crave steadiness and transparency. The most effective leaders behave in a way that creates a stabilizing force for their people.  You create stability through contemplative actions, pausing before jumping to a solution. Even while people demand you act, remember to think through options and consequences first. Create stability by acknowledging the challenges ahead and working toward solutions, involving your people along the way. 
  • Communicate – often: No matter the circumstance, a leader’s ability to communicate effectively creates advantage. Without clear communication, employees tend to fill the void with (oftentimes inaccurate) assumptions. Working in a virtual environment accentuates communication challenges and can create a vacuum of information if left unattended. Your job as a leader is to communicate frequently, honestly and genuinely – especially when you don’t know all the answers. Ensure that your people stay connected, understand their role and know where the organization is headed, even if it’s just for today.  
  • Seek Out Your People’s Ideas: People only truly commit to the things they help create. Engage your people to think about solutions. Your team has impactful ideas on how to navigate the crisis. Encourage and seek out their ideas knowing that not everyone feels empowered to offer solutions. Leverage that fact that your people are closer to the details of their environment. They know customers, vendors, systems and their people more intimately. Proactively ask your people what problems they see and gather their ideas on potential pivots. Allow your people to assume leadership and most importantly, listen intently when they do.  
  • Focus on moving forward: Before the current crisis, your organization had a mission. While the environment surrounding your business has changed, the reason your organization exists remains. As the initial rush to solve immediate problems wanes, leaders must reevaluate their strategy to fulfill their mission. Take time to focus on a plan – short term, mid-term and long term. While one week might feel like an eternity today, your people rely on you to have a plan and communicate it clearly. 

(authored by Jon Player of Bell Leadership)

Learn more from Bell Leadership at our upcoming Leadership Series where we invite CED Partners to choose from two virtual paths.

Accelerate Partners
Learning From the Past to Build Your Business Forward
April 30th, 2020 at 9am

Premium & Strategic Partners
Keeping Communication Personal in a Virtual Environment: Connect deeply with your team even when you can’t be with them
April 30th, 2020

Visit our Leadership Page for more information and to register.

get the latest