Leaders Must do Five Things in a Crisis

You are a leader. Whether you are a manager or not, you have the ability to take action, right now, to make your world and the people in it, better.

This could be you going to the supermarket or drug store and checking in with neighbors to see if they need anything (besides toilet paper). It could be calling relatives, friends, colleagues, and those who may not have people checking in with them. It could be you seeing something wrong in your neighborhood or at work and taking action to see it fixed.

That’s leadership.

If you’re a manager, it’s time to step up.

For more than 20 years, I’ve been a crisis manager, helping electric utilities on short notice to get the staff and materials they need to restore power after a hurricane. That’s a 24/7 responsibility, and I learned a tremendous amount being thrown into the vortex of multiple crises.

Here are the three things leaders must do in a crisis.

Make sure those around you know you are at work and that they can depend on you. Establish a network to keep your key people informed, and engage with everyone you work with. You need to over-communicate. Don’t worry, you won’t be overloading anyone’s inbox; they want to know what’s going on.

Find out what needs to get done and be assertive. When you see a problem, don’t wait for others to act or report it. Take responsibly and get it done.

Even though you may be teleworking, you still need to bring people together. Set up a regular conference call and keep staff talking. Just a simple “Round the Horn” to let your people share the top issues they’re working on is extremely helpful to keep everyone in the loop. We’ve been doing this for the past two weeks with my staff and our collaboration has been outstanding. When you need to engage, call people. Use email and texting for the small stuff, but make sure you call to have some voice-to-voice interaction. You’ll be pleased with the value it creates in improving your effectiveness, and your relationships.

We’ve been doing this daily and I’ve been amazed at the kinds of personal issues that have been raised, and the support our staff has provided each other. For example, one employee was headed to Costco, and another who could not get out, needed diapers. Problem solved.

Do not lie or sugarcoat. It’s a tough balance, as you want to give people hope, but also give them a clear picture even if the situation is grim. In crisis management, they call this “situational awareness.” Be straight up. Here’s the good news, here’s the bad news.

– – –

We’ve seen some great leadership examples during this pandemic. Absolutely no one wants to shut down the economy, and it takes a lot of guts and grit to go against the tide of pundits and back-seat drivers who second guess a leader’s decisions.

A few standouts include New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who sits with reporters in front of cameras multiple times each day, providing clear situational awareness and frank perspectives on what his team is seeing. California Governor Gavin Newsom and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine have taken strong measures to issue stay-at-home orders to get ahead of community spread.

I’ve also been impressed with Rep. Liz Cheney, who warned the President not to ease guidelines too quickly and stood up to her political party to take these drastic stay-home actions seriously. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief expert on the coronavirus and pandemics, has at times had to immediately contradict his boss to make sure the American people are told the truth. These leaders may be from a variety of partisan perspectives; nevertheless, they’ve overcome those concerns to take decisive action for the good of the country. Watch their examples and take action yourself.

Stay safe and healthy.

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And check out my book Connect! How to Quickly Collaborate for Success in Business and Life. You’ll get lots of great ideas for connecting with those around you and making all your interactions more positive and effective.

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