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The Alternative Board Blog

How to Lead During a Crisis

Oct. 30, 2020 | Posted by Jodie Shaw
leadership during a crisis concept image

Working with a remote workforce requires different management and leadership. During the current Coronavirus pandemic, many members of your team will be experiencing mixed emotions from anxiety to worry. Some will be highly distracted with their thoughts and concerns, or with their young families demanding their attention and time when working from home.

For many business leaders, this new environment has created a different level of stress and workload. Many businesses are pivoting their business models, creating more critical projects with tight deadlines. In these uncertain times, it is important to have a high functioning team. While some of your team will welcome the added distraction of an increased workload, many team members will need regular check-ins from their leaders to help with both emotional and work stress.

Here are some ideas to help the most important assets in your organization - your people.

Be a Shining Example

While many key executives and leaders are feeling the full effect of unprecedented and necessary change in their organizations, it is vital to minimize stress flowing into teams and departments.

Your team will be seeking direction through this crisis, with a well-thought-out plan and execution management. Teams will also be looking towards their leaders as an example of how to cope, how to communicate, and how to work during this “new normal.”

If you are the type of leader who keeps their employees at an arms-length, now is the time to be present, empathetic, kind, and forgiving. You can be "socially distanced" without being emotionally distanced from your workforce.

Investing one on one time with every member of your team should be frequent. Listening, asking thoughtful questions, showing empathy and understanding as well as offering sage advice should be part of your daily routine. The introverts on your team may be more accustomed to hiding their true feelings, so don’t assume an “I am doing okay” response is 100% accurate. The extraverts on your team will be feeling especially isolated (which is outside their comfort zones) and may need extra support.

People always remember who was there for them during a crisis. Be that person (who also just happens to be their boss).

Meet Regularly

It will be necessary to meet virtually with your team frequently. A morning “stand-up” meeting (also known as a "daily scrum," a "daily huddle," "morning roll-call,") is a meeting where everyone on the team provides a quick status update.

Consider adding an area on the agenda where the team can give “shout-outs” or kudos to their colleagues. Start each meeting with “Today I am most grateful for …” where team members can share something positive happening in their lives that they would like to share with others on the team. Try changing meeting leaders each day and ask them to start and end the meeting with positive news.

Every action and reaction in life is a choice. For many team members, the emotional toll of the pandemic is a lot. Choosing to focus on positives (and there are always positives) will help to set the tone for the day and will be a much-needed respite from the endless negativity in the world.

Show Gratitude Regularly

In the #1 New York Times bestselling book “How Full is Your Bucket” by Tom Rath, a simple metaphor of a dipper and a bucket shows you how to increase positivity significantly in your work and your life - while reducing the negative. With every interaction, ask yourself, did that person "fill your bucket" by making you feel more positive? Or did that person "dip from your bucket," leaving you more negative than before?

Think about all the interactions you have with your team, whether by phone, email, or video conference. Are you filling the buckets of your team with every interaction? Make sure you tell your workforce how much you appreciate them.

Forgive Mistakes

The speed at which many companies or departments have to pivot is breakneck. The pandemic seemed to change the world in a day. You’ll be making many demands on your team as your company changes to match the world we now live. When people are asked to complete projects or orders quickly, quality and accuracy dips. Add to this pressure, the anxiety and worry many of your team may be experiencing, mistakes should be expected.

As the leader, you should point out but quickly forgive mistakes. Say something reassuring like “I noticed that you slipped up the last order. I know I am asking a lot of you, with so much change occurring in the business and the world right now. I know you are doing your best. How can I help you?”

Create a Fun Workplace

Do something fun virtually during your workday. Create a “viral playlist” for your team to participate by adding their choices of mood-boosting songs. Share appropriate songs on a Spotify account. Host a virtual lunch where no work talk is allowed. Have a funny hat day for when you meet virtually. Play virtual Pictionary. Celebrate your team members' birthdays with a box of cupcakes home delivered. Start a Google Shared Worksheet with the best shows to watch during a shutdown, with contributions from each team member. Play Trivial Pursuit with an app called Slid.io. Go on a virtual walk with your team.

There are so many ways to make sure the hours your team is working; they are motivated and happy. Creating a safe and fun environment is precisely what your team needs right now.

Look after your Work Family

Remember, part of the role of a leader is to safeguard your team. Cross-training is essential at any time, but especially during a crisis, make sure you train a back-up for each team member. Should a team member get sick, you will have a back-up who can perform those duties. It will provide peace of mind to your team members. You should also consider asking team members to document processes and protocols.

Regularly check up on the health and financial well-being of your team. You may want to hire a life coach or counselor to speak with your team, of course with full confidentiality and without charge. Perhaps you could hire a motivational speaker to give a talk on a virtual team meeting (because speakers are without income due to no more travel and public gatherings). If your budget allows, send an Edible Arrangement, bag of groceries, or flowers to bring a smile and some relief.

Making Tough Decisions

You should always make tough decisions based on financial modeling. Make sure you understand the difference between furlough, salary reduction, and redundancy as possible options.

If you need to reduce your workforce, do it swiftly, honestly, and compassionately. Morale is an essential commodity in current times, so make the tough decisions fast. If you spread it out, low morale will be commonplace, and it is hard to build a company with an unhappy workforce. Consider assembling resources like a list of companies who are currently hiring, a free LinkedIn profile consultation, or resume rewrite as part of the redundancy package.

Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by Jodie Shaw

Jodie is responsible for growing the brand internationally and helping TAB Business Owners attract new TAB Members in their local markets.

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