As a leader, are you wondering about how your team is coping with the crises that are causing social distancing in all of its forms – school, work, reduced hours and curfews? Is it just good enough to wonder or shouldn’t we be asking and engaging our teams? A friend called me up, just to ask me how I was coping and yes, I really told her! At the end of the conversation I thanked her for asking me. This conversation also allowed me to ponder on the issues that have been lagging in my subconscious and brought into focus the stress and tension I felt by our new “normal” or “abnormal”. This is a leadership trait, expressing empathy and reaching out to your team at this time can motivate and show that you are a leader that cares.

Novel crises can test leadership capability, decision making and strategic thinking abilities according to Mary Galligan, a Deloitte & Touche Advisor. As a leader you are trained and experienced to manage people and situations, however the methodology used by organizations in dealing with disruptive and sudden emergency situations may prove inadequate, as leadership styles can vary based on the required response. While many companies have a crisis management plan in place, they may not have actually tested their plans, or the plans may be scanty.

During a crisis, stakeholders should be engaged and interactions with the media to articulate the situation and to share your intended actions plan is strategic. Leaders can use crises as an opportunity to build stronger partnerships and ask for help if needed.

Your team expects you to provide strong support and guidance and your confidence in the process is a mark of continuity for your team and true leadership skills are required. The following are tips for leaders in crisis management:

  1. We should lead from the front. Demonstrate confidence, by steadfastly taking charge of the situation and making sound decisions based upon facts. The leader may not be the best choice to lead the response to a particular crisis. He may need to delegate this responsibility to an expert.
  2. Leaders must show empathy towards their team: Your team should feel that you are there for them and if possible, recommend crisis management training for your team members. Make the connection with your team, by demonstrating emotional intelligence. Questions like: ‘How are you coping John?’ helps a great deal. Be sure to actively listen to John’s response and provide feedback and truthful reassurances when needed.
  3. Some essential systems and procedures should remain functioning: Make the decision quickly with your team regarding essential areas that will remain operational for the uninterrupted flow of the organization. Ensure there are pre-approved alternative plans that are communicated to the team;
  4. Control the work flow of the team. Always communicate with the team on what is currently happening and do not ignore what may be deemed simple information in the beginning of the crisis. Be sure of the sources of data and intelligence before disseminating. To avoid major crises and in some cases unrest, all issues are to be attended to early. Be flexible and aware that in a crisis people’s reactions change and situations change and the leader should respond decisively;
  5. A Leader should be alert and aware of the business climate: Detect the early signs of crises or unrest and warn team members, as it is your duty to outline precautionary measures in avoiding, mitigating or transferring risk in emergency situations. As a leader, you need to ascertain what could be the impact of any crisis. This may mean a reworking of the crisis management plan and this should be done in a timely manner.
  6. Within reason, leaders must try to avoid negativity. The main responsibility of a leader is communication within the team and effective communication throughout the organization should be more frequent in times of a crisis. Teams should be encouraged to keep in constant contact, discuss issues and to propose workable solutions to overcome the crisis. It is crucial when working with virtual teams that there is constant communication among team members.
  7. As a Leader you should not panic: Propose solutions and clearly articulate your vision in addressing the crisis, thereby fostering a calm and focused team. Ask your teams to face the tough times courageously, determined not to panic, while not forgetting a sense of humor. Encourage teamwork and always offer direction, particularly while working in virtual spaces.
  8. Planning is essential to avoid or mitigate emergency situations. As leaders we should take decisive actions as well as timely decisions and delegate to team members; The planning for a crisis is your responsibility as a leader and if that was not done, it should be a priority once the situation normalizes;
  9. Disallow negativity to impact the organization: Motivate employees to trust the team, believe in their abilities and the capabilities of the organization. Make clear the implications of malicious rumors on the company and communicate the swift action and consequences intended to be taken with violators;
  10. There are lessons to be learned during a crisis situation and it is the leader’s duty to ensure that clear records are kept during the crisis. Those lessons learned are to be clearly communicated to the team. The team is then sensitized on how to address future reoccurrences.

As a leader, you will be required to take risks. In order to emerge out of a crisis situation and to do this as soon as possible, you will need to assign a ‘solutions team’ and to assign the roles and responsibilities of each team member during the crisis. Foremost, your main responsibility is to communicate, communicate, communicate!