Updated: Mar 22
When faced with a crisis, most leaders are forced to think and behave in ways that feel unfamiliar. Whatever the crisis, be it technological, financial, natural, or health — at work, at home or in the community — when the shit hits the fan, leaders need to grow a pair... quickly. They then need to take the right decision, based on sound moral, ethical and economic reasoning - balanced decisions, that ensure a sense of purpose - a purpose that everybody understands, and can follow.
Balanced decision making, based around the simple premise that to be sound, a decision has to equally satisfy the stakeholders, the employees and the end user - decisions taken out of fulfilling a vision, not purely for material monetary value, decisions that people will remember for the right reasons, and decisions that mean those leaders can sleep soundly at night... Without question, the most effective leaders are able to remain calm and maintain a sense of perspective. During a crisis, their goal is to reduce loss and keep things operating as normally as possible.
So here we are in May 2020, and the current large pile of shit heading towards the proverbial global fan is the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent associated disruptions in the global economy.... its a massive shitshow waiting to happen, our government are doing what they can to avoid economic recession, whilst keeping the public safe from harm - not a tempting place to be.
So what do great business leaders do ? At this point it is important to qualify the difference between management and leadership, it is also important to stress that great business needs both sets of skills... heres a handy quiz for you to take, it will answer these questions for you...
Ducking and diving as the shit hits the fan
'Unplug the fan' with the right info
It is your responsibility to determine the most reliable, up-to-date information from trustworthy sources. Avoid getting information from social media, and be wary of any news organisations that have a political, financial, or activist agenda. Shirley the voice of Momentum might sound very convincing on facebook, just as Piers Morgan on GMTV might sound knowledgeable.... but neither are, they just splurge opinion, designed entirely to gather likes.
Information is power... Why? because it; reduces emotional distress caused by the unknown; diminishes fear; provides tactical guidance, and demonstrates to employees that their leaders are concerned, involved, knowledgeable, and on top of the situation.... Whether that be the reality or the perfect illusion.
So conversely, poor leadership around information and a lack of expected communication causes stress, increases fear, makes your team feel rudder-less and ultimately undermines your position as their leader. What happens when you don't tell your team the truth?... Well thats when teams revert to gossip and rumors and in the absence of 'real shit' also tend to make shit up... and I promise you, that invariably, the stuff they make up will be worse than reality, no matter how much of a shitshow reality is - its a steaming shitshow in their alternate reality.
Get people ready for a shit show
Once essential information is gathered, it should be disseminated to the entire business - tactically, quickly and seamlessly - considering every means possible. Transparency is key. You will earn a lot of favour from your team, by being open and honest.
How should you communicate?
Face-to-face first, whether in person or through virtual channels. With a plethora of tools for hosting and personalising virtual meetings, quarantines don’t have to stand in the way of your team coming together face-to-face. Our business has used all these tools - zoom has been brilliant for hosting our Sunday night quiz whilst we are all furloughed....
Be honest about the size of the shit heading our way
Explain what your business is doing about the crisis. During a crisis, time is compressed. The initial onset of a crisis presents immense pressure to act — and act quickly. Sometimes you have to begin tackling a problem before you have a solid grasp of what’s actually happening. If you are in charge, take charge. Be proactive; take initiative. Do something even if it might be wrong; paralysis or over analysing is riskier. As you make decisions (balanced ones) and take action (with a purpose), communicate those actions truthfully and honestly to your team.
Dont be the wandering jew, cop your fair share of flying shit
During a crisis, leaders need to be accessible. As it’s not always possible to walk around your business and talk to your team in person, let employees know how they can best reach you with status updates and questions. Particularly during a crisis, employees have a need to hear from their leaders frequently. When leaders appear calm, concerned, knowledgeable, and in charge, workers feel encouraged and are more likely to have confidence that things are under control and will ultimately, be fine.
If you are in charge of whoever is there, then be in charge, don't be the wandering jew. An entire business cannot be hamstrung because your to do list didn’t account for your being a team player.
You're going to need a bigger umbrella
As any crisis transitions from its urgent phase, the time pressure will ease, as will the need for split-second decisions. At that point, the plan must evolve into a more complex system that looks at recovery and getting things back to normal — whatever the new normal looks like.
Its more personal than you think
During a crisis, leaders are often focused on the emotional turmoil of their direct reports and others in the business, but it’s equally important for leaders to take care of themselves. Whatever leadership role you play, you need to be aware of your own emotional turmoil, its effect on your behavior, and its subsequent influence on your leadership abilities. You will not make legendary decision maker status, whilst stressed off your tits trust me.
Take these actions to keep the perspective you need to bring your people and your business through a crisis. Paying attention to your own emotions, needs, and behaviors, you will be better prepared to handle the human dimensions of the crisis. Stay in the game...
FACE YOUR EMOTIONAL TRUTH "Oh Shit"
Recognising and managing the emotions of the situation — others’ as well as your own — can help with individual and group resiliency, getting people to safety, and then back to normal (or a new normal). People with an imbalanced emotional state don’t process well. It is important to do anything you can to reduce the emotional stress on people while “doing the job.”
MAKE PERSONAL CONNECTION "Theres shit going down"
Draw on a sense of loyalty, courage, morality, or other principles that tie your crisis response to what is important to people.
BE A POSITIVE JOHNNY NOT A NEG FERRET "We can beat this shit"
A leader’s attitude is contagious. Leaders are traders in hope and belief. Even in extreme crisis, an upbeat, can-do attitude will help keep people going.
SHOW EMPATHY FOR YOUR TEAMS FEELINGS "you ok with this shit?"
Treat people with sincerity and genuine empathy. Show it by paying attention, listening, and responding to what people are telling you, as well as considering what is not being said... Theres lots of truth between the lines, and being an emotionally intelligent leader, will find it.
THINK “Whats today's shit.”
Take the crisis one day at a time. Diarise your day. Plan in time staring out of a window, spinning in a chair and thinking only.
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE STUFF.
Avoid "neg ferrets" / negative people, negative thoughts, and negative talk. Constantly think positive thoughts and tell yourself that you can do it!
GET YOUR INTERNAL SHIT TOGETHER.
Take 5-minute private breaks. Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing. Don’t neglect spiritual exercises and activities if they fit your individual beliefs.
PRIORITISE AND FOCUS.
Keep meetings short and to the point... Try one where everyone stands. Be more assertive. Say “no” more often. Be more conscious about managing your time and priorities. Concentrate on only major issues. Skip secondary tasks - and stop adding none critical work into your diary... Using the balanced triangle will help with this.
As a result...
you will be more capable of containing the crisis, regaining control, minimising damage, and effectively preventing, defusing, and reducing the duration of an extremely difficult leadership situation.
If a similar emergency unfolds in the future, will you be prepared? While improvisation cannot be planned, thinking and team-building exercises can be built into a training program that prepares everyone for a similar, future crisis and importantly attitudes towards decision making and leadership can change.
During a crisis, leaders who have built a personal, respectful and cultural foundation can then focus on the immediacy of the actual shit heading towards the fan, and much quicker pull their team through.