7 Common Mistakes Leaders Make in a Crisis; or What Not To Do During Covid-19
1) Trying to control the situation
There is no rule book for a crisis like Covid-19. Rather than trying to control this situation, or feeling overwhelmed by lack of control, try to shift your focus to developing a new leadership skill: the ability to rapidly evaluate an evolving situation and respond with compassionate, creative, and collaborative solutions. In our leadership lifetime the world has never suffered a global pandemic, so this is new and uncharted territory. The closest experience leaders have is the most recent global economic recession, and already we see government and leaders quickly accessing that experience to tap into resilience and lessons learned. When the time comes, we will look back on this too, and learn the lessons and build our contingency plans accordingly.
2) Not stepping back to see the bigger picture
There is growing pressure on governments to exit lockdown and help the economy “get back to normal.” However, this emphasis on returning to “normal” implies that we think we can go back to where we were. We cannot. It will not be as simple as that. Leaders must step back and see the bigger picture, acknowledge the severity of both short- and long-term business economic fallout from Covid-19 and try to pivot their businesses accordingly to an adjusted or new set of products, services, and delivery platforms. It might help to think of pre–Covid-19 as “normal,” the current crisis as the “new normal,” and post–Covid-19 as the “next normal.”
3) Not communicating enough
In any crisis it is important to communicate more regularly and more often, because people want more reassurance and information than usual. Set out how regularly you plan to be in touch, and stick to your schedule. Don’t wait longer than a week for your employees and key stakeholders to hear from you. Otherwise you create a vacuum of silence that will inevitably be filled with unhelpful, fear-led rumors. Never cancel any planned communications events. Even if there is nothing new to share, stick with the planned session to let people know there is nothing new to communicate yet, but you’re still concerned about their welfare. Take the opportunity to be encouraging and explain what plans are in place to continue working on solutions.
4) Not decentralizing decision-making
Centralizing decision-making in a crisis like Covid-19 is a mistake because, although the pandemic is global, it is occurring at different rates in different regions and countries. Allow regional or country heads to establish their own responses. Give clear direction to your teams on the key priorities, but decentralize decision-making and empower local teams to respond on how to deliver on those key priorities as they see appropriate, while still staying accountable to the big-picture purpose and values of the organization. However, just as individual team members should not isolate from one other, don’t let the team distance itself from the rest of the organization and what is happening at headquarters and around the nation or world. Ideally, different regional and country teams can be leveraged to help each other through the worst parts of this crisis.
5) Not accessing the experience in your organization
Allow space for everyone at every level to step up and play their part – and be open to their ideas and resourcefulness. It will be interesting to notice whether members of your diverse and minority groups will be the ones to make the greatest contributions because of their inbuilt resilience and life experience of responding to situations where the odds are stacked against them. It is not that long ago when businesses had to respond to a sudden global economic recession – and I can see already that leaders who went through that experience are tapping into that resilience and reflecting on the lessons they learned, what worked well, what didn’t, and are deploying tactics accordingly.
6) Missing the opportunity to bond with your customers and community
Lack of transparency would be a mistake. This crisis is happening to all of us and there is nowhere to hide. Let your customers know that the team may be working remotely, but that your franchise remains committed to excellent customer service. Explain that we are all in this together and we will all come through this together. There is nothing more bonding than working with your customer in a transparent way during a crisis and coming up with solutions together. Beyond customers, businesses have an opportunity to show what they really stand for, and show their support to the community suffering around them. What resources does your business have that you can redeploy for the benefit of those less well-off during this crisis?
7) Moving to remote working without a holistic employee engagement strategy
It is a mistake to think that it is business-as-usual for employees working from home. Employee stress and burnout should be a concern as workers grapple with the healthcare implications of Covid-19 on loved ones, and their requirement to work from home while other members of the family are home-schooled and their partner also is working from home. Develop a holistic employee engagement strategy to support the emotional and social health of your people – from employee assistance programs to leaders hosting virtual coffee informal check-ins. No one should be expected to be superhuman and deliver the same 100% rate of output during a global pandemic and state or country lockdown. This goes for you too. As a leader, you are not superhuman. Remember to take care of yourself, as well your people.
Niamh O’Keeffe is a corporate leadership advisor and author of “Future Shaper: How leaders can take charge in an uncertain world” (published 2020). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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