Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Leading Through a Crisis

Volume: March 2020

This century we have led through the chaos of 9/11. We have led through the confusion of the Great Recession. We are now faced with leading through a pandemic. No one you know has led their organization through a pandemic of this proportion. Yet, you are not alone. Further, you possess the skills necessary to successfully lead your organization through this very stressful time. In case you need to hit the reset button, I offer you the following seven items to embrace.  

  1. Keep Calm & Carry On. If a team is facing a crisis and they throw themselves into chaos, it highlights a lack of leadership. The best leaders remain calm during times of emergency. In fact, their calm coupled with strong actions brings calm to their people. Remaining calm when facing a crisis is one of the Six Rules for Solving Workplace Problems.

  2. Strategy & Style. Another part of problem-solving is to be collaborative. As such, work with your fellow leaders and your advisors in order to craft a strategy that addresses the many alternatives that surround a crisis. Be clear about directions and seek to have narrow guardrails. This may call for you to exhibit a more direct or commanding style of leadership. Execute. People want confident, definitive direction during a crisis.

  3. (Then) Communicate. If we communicate before we have calmed our own nerves and established an intelligent roadmap, we may look like we spoke out of turn. Yes, we need to operate with a sense of urgency. However, do not communicate without a sense of calm and confidence.

    Regarding the frequency and channels of communication, once you put forth messaging it needs to be frequently reiterated and updated. Also, identify what the main channel of communication will be for your organization. Don’t just assume that everyone will look for emails because you originally communicated via an org-wide email. State the official channel. Share how often team members can expect updates. Identify others in the organization that may also be providing official information and directions. The bottom line here: Leave Nothing to Chance. Clear communication is of paramount importance.

  4. Training. Odds are good that most of the leaders in your organization have not led their team through a world-wide crisis. Due to the nature of a pandemic, in order to maintain some type of normal operations, most organizations will be resorting to having many employees work from home (or remotely). On the surface, this makes logical sense, and seems easy. The dark side, however, is that fewer than 50% of people can productively work from home. This is where you and your leadership team enter the equation. Make time to educate your leadership team and help them understand how to Lead Virtual Teams. In other words, your leadership team may need to take a crash course on how to effectively lead remote workers.

  5. Track. Your organization is a learning organization. While leading through a pandemic is an unfortunate learning experience, it nonetheless allows us to gain knowledge. Some of the experiences your organization may want to track along this journey are as follows: 
    • What actions are working, and why?
    • What messaging is resonating, and why?
    • What communication channels are proving effective?
    • What is falling flat, and why?
    • What mistakes have we made?

  6. Position Yourself as a Sherpa. Do NOT position yourself as a resource through this fog. Make it clear to everyone that you are an expert guide. Further, communicate that your C-Level team are experts as well (see Training above). Let everyone in your organization know that you are available 24/7 for any reason. Then, live this. Line up support that will allow you to live this. And, enlist help and up your game as needed to be able to walk the talk.

  7. Set a Vision for the Future. To whatever extent you can, help your team understand what lies ahead in the medium and long-run for your organization. This may sound sensationalistic, but humans are a very resilient species. We adapt quicker than any species the world has ever known. We will most assuredly gain a handle on this pandemic and emerge wiser and more knowledgeable. Frankly, the civility and cooperation that is being executed around the world is quite heart-warming. We are survivors. And we grow. The silver lining in this pandemic may be that we unite as a species and treat Mother Earth with more respect. We are One. It’s a shame that it is taking a pandemic to bring that message to light.  
Until next time, be well. And wash your hands.
Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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