When a crisis develops suddenly, leaders are quick to identify the issue, isolate the impact, and take decisive action. For a slow-moving crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be paralysing.
There’s a concept in psychology called the normalcy bias. As we are all products of our experiences, we tend to expect things in the future to follow similar patterns we’ve seen in the past. This can cause us to underestimate the significance and impact of a crisis. As the coronavirus pandemic rolled across the world, it took time to sink in that this wasn’t normal.
As borders, businesses, and schools closed, another mindset started to emerge for some. Another type of bias emerged – the worst-case scenario bias. In this stage, some people fixated on the worst possible outcomes and let it impact their thinking. This can lead to impulse actions and poor decisions.
These biases may explain why some were downplaying the pandemic while others were panicking at the same time. There was no way to know who was right at the time. What is known is that great managers with strong leadership skills have never been more important.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy,” said civil right leader Martin Luther King. Jr.
While we don’t mean to compare what Dr. King went through in his fight for civil rights, his message resonates in today’s environment. We are all facing new challenges and how we respond will demonstrate who we really are.
The Pivot to Recovery
It’s time to put aside your biases, step back, and take stock of what need to happen next. Leaders can’t wait until things settle down. Your employees are counting on you to rise to the challenge and guide them. Your business needs you to prepare yourself and your team for the challenges that lie ahead. And, this may be the defining moment in your career – good or bad.
Many of us have been so busy using our leadership skills to manage the urgency of today but now we must pivot from a today mindset to a tomorrow mindset. COVID-19 has created a series of challenges and uncertainty. However, it also creates opportunities.
It’s time to focus on managing the crisis while building the future.
Project Confidence, Positivity, and Realism
A great manager must have the ability to lead organisations. They will inspire confidence. Amid chaos, they are the ones that stand up and say: “Don’t worry. We’ve got this.” They are the ones with the leadership skills to make people believe they have a solid plan and they are taking charge.
The plan must by positive and optimistic while being grounded in reality.
Telling your sales team that buyers will go right back to pre-pandemic spending levels probably isn’t realistic. Most experts expect the recovery will happen in stages and it may take some time before things return to normal. Such false optimism won’t engender confidence in your plan. However, a 5-part plan to re-engage with high-value customers as the recovery starts is realistic and creates a tangible goal.
Show them what is within their control and focus their effort on what can be done to be ready for recovery.
There is hope out there. PWC analysed 2,000 companies that went through major crises and found that 42% said they emerged stronger and in a better place. 36% said things were about the same and only 19% reported being a worse place than before the crisis.
A Focus on Team
No matter how strong your management skills and leadership skills are, you can’t do it alone. 93% of the companies that emerged stronger after crisis events report they acted as a team in response.
“Crisis in a magnifier. The experience of going through one can bring out the best (or worst) in both your company and your people,” concluded PWC’s Global Crisis Survey 2019.
You will be able to tell more quickly who in your organisation is stepping up and who fades into the background. It’s a great opportunity to discover future leaders.
Clarity of Message
During uncertain times and moments of stress, some team members will tend to miss important messages. They may listen to the words you say but fail to really hear them. When stressed or overwhelmed, your employees might not be able to process multiple facts. They misinterpret what you’re saying or have difficulty remembering what you’ve asked of them.
Simplify your messages and be clear about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you need from them.
Establish Credibility with Transparency
Leadership training tell us that people have trouble changing beliefs when there’s a crisis. When there’s no framework for what’s happening around them, people often default to past experiences and discount evidence that contradicts what they’re hearing.
This can be especially difficult when people feel that things are out of their control. Establish credibility by being transparent. Everybody knows you don’t have all the answers right now. Nobody does. Admitting it doesn’t make you weak. It shows you’re being honest.
Bad news doesn’t get better with age. It’s important that you share both the good and bad with your employees. While striking a general tone of optimistic, you need to demonstrate your leadership skills by letting your employees know there are real challenges ahead while reassuring them you believe we can overcome them.
Ask for Help
Leadership can be a lonely endeavour. During a crisis, the burden of leadership can be crushing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to peers and colleagues. Reach out to mentors. Talk to stakeholders, partners, and key accounts. Get leadership training and ask for advice from people you trust.
You need someone you can share what you’re going through and trust they will give you an honest assessment of the path you choose.
Build Your Plan for the Pivot
Although there is a great deal of uncertainty about the current situation, there are things you know you need to do now and in the immediate aftermath.
Visualise the Future
Focus on what happens next and visualise the steps you need to take to get there.
Shift Your Focus
You’ve likely spent a lot of time looking inward to the safety and well-being of your staff. It’s time to turn your attention outward to your customers and frame the desired outcomes.
Think in Stages
You’ve been applying your management skills to short-term planning. The pivot includes thinking in stages:
- Transition Plan
- Mid-Term Plan
- Long-Term Plan
Develop a transition plan to get you from where you are today to where you need to go tomorrow.
The transition plan should include a measured and thoughtful approach. What have we learned during this crisis that we can apply to our future? Can we continue to let people work from home, and should we?
The mid-term plan will need to deal with the financial impact of what you’ve been through while aligning resources to ramp up operations. Define the most important action steps to get things moving now. The long-term plan needs to focus on imaging the future and what it takes to realise that vision.
Economic conditions may force you to make difficult decisions. As your leadership skills pivot from reactive to proactive, you need to redefine what success looks like for your team. For example, your pre-coronavirus pandemic goals may have been to hit sales targets that are now unrealistic. Your new goals for your sales and marketing teams may be more focused on qualifying leads in the short-term rather than hitting sales quotas.
Leadership Lessons to Be Learned
There are lessons to be learned from COVID-19. The actions governments, politicians, and business leaders took (or didn’t take) will be debated for years. Did we make the right decisions at the right time? We may not ever know all the answers.
One thing is for sure, however. We’re likely to be judged as leaders based on the decisions we are making now.