5 Leadership Lessons Learned in Crisis
Over the past few months, I’ve faced new leadership challenges nearly every day — and I realize we’ve yet to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. But through it all, I’ve learned a number of valuable lessons about how to lead during a crisis, and I’m sharing those lessons now in hopes that they might reach future generations of leaders who are still learning in real time how to effectively lead despite so much uncertainty.
“Leaders are brokers of hope.”
This paraphrased quote from Napoleon has been weighing heavily on my mind in recent months. As we’ve all had to cope with the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ll admit I’ve found myself questioning exactly how to broker hope for those across the Neighborly organization when I myself was unsure of what each new day would bring.
Quite frankly, I am not the biggest fan of the unknown. Any leadership decision I make is driven by past experiences or research and planning to prepare for something unfamiliar that I know is on the horizon. In the case of a global pandemic, I had neither past experience nor time to prepare.
As this ongoing health crisis has evolved, my team and I have worked around the clock to figure out in real time how to effectively lead nearly 4,000 franchise owners and 900 associates across our global network.
Keep in mind that in our case, as a franchisor of home service brands deemed essential almost across the board, business did not stop. And for that, we are incredibly grateful. However, it did have to change drastically in a number of ways. And for a company that has spent about 40 years perfecting the systems we now operate under, change is understandably uncomfortable.
This experience has not been easy, either personally or professionally by any means, and I realize we’ve yet to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. But through it all, I’ve learned a number of valuable lessons about how to lead during times of crisis.
Lesson #1: Communicate frequently with all stakeholders
This is one of those key points that should always be a priority, in times of crisis or otherwise. But the unknown especially brings with it many questions: How will business continue under new health regulations? What is the financial state of the business? What resources will be made available to help me succeed as a business owner?
As a leader, it should be your goal to answer your stakeholders’ questions before they even ask them. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers, your employees, your investors. If you were them, what would your concerns be? Even if you don’t have the answers yet, you need to assure all parties that play a role in your organization that you’re trying to stay at least one step ahead of the issues.
Lesson #2: Be transparent and frank
In all business dealings, the worst thing any leader could do is sidestep an important issue to maintain the calm of its people. When a situation is obvious to everyone, it deserves to be addressed. And in doing so, it’s important to remember that trust is a hard thing to earn in the first place, but a near-impossible thing to win back if lost.
In times of crisis, you need to be brutally honest. Address the challenges head-on, and don’t avoid talking about the important facts just because it’s uncomfortable. With that being said, as your organization’s “broker of hope,” you need to present the situation from all sides, which includes your intended approach to address the negative with promising next steps.
Lesson #3: Expand your normal sphere of collaboration and data points
Any leader has a core group of advisors to lean on when difficult decisions must be made. And that core group helps you walk through decisions and uncertain times. But I also believe it’s important to expand your core group to include new perspectives and experience, especially during times that require new opinions and experiences. A major component of crisis management is listening – listening to those around you who can provide different perspectives and recommendations for how to approach the unknown.
Lesson #4: Act quickly, but reserve the right to modify as more information becomes available
As leaders, it’s often difficult for us to accept that we don’t have all the answers. And when we find ourselves having to make decisions in times of uncertainty, we want to do the right thing on the first try. I’m here to remind you that it is okay to change your approach as you learn. Stay agile, get started in the direction that is best suited for current circumstances, and figure the rest out as you go. You probably won’t have abundant data to go off of when it comes to a time of crisis, and what you decide will likely change as more data is revealed.
Lesson #5: Stick to your values
In my case with Neighborly, while I did not and still do not have all the answers for how we will overcome the challenges associated with a global health crisis, I did have one especially valuable resource to lean on for all decision-making: our Code of Values. I owe it to these standards, which we hold ourselves to in this company, that my team and I were able to and will continue to lead our great organization to success.
Again, I fully recognize that we are not out of the woods yet. It will take time for us all to adjust to this “new normal.” But for now, I hope that we as leaders will continue to be open-minded as we learn to manage our companies under these new circumstances. It is only through applying the lessons that we learn along the way that we can truly become “brokers of hope.”
Mike Bidwell is President and CEO of Neighborly, a holding company of 24 service-based franchise organizations providing a diverse array of specialty services through nearly 3,900 franchisees in 9 countries.
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