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“Anyone can lead when the plan is working. The best lead when the plan falls apart.” – Robin S. Sharma

Just a month ago, no one anticipated just how much social distancing, state-wide shut-downs, and toilet paper shortages would be a part of our everyday conversations. But here we are.

As we continue to face this global pandemic and hear more and more about COVID-19 (coronavirus), we are all learning to function under surreal and unprecedented conditions. We are also learning about how important strong leadership is in times of crisis – let’s take a look at what that means.


Crisis Leadership In The News


We have seen outstanding leadership over the past month from certain politicians, influencers, public servants, and even professional athletes. We’ll talk about specific qualities that make good leaders in troubled times, but for now, here are some of my favorite examples of effective crisis leadership.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo 

Governor Cuomo has stepped up to fill a leadership void by providing information, direction and reassurance. When addressing his constituents in nationally televised press conferences, he continues to be transparent, compassionate and calm while sharing factual information amid fear and panic. His messages have resonated with citizens across the nation, serving as a beacon of hope. 


In U.S. News & World Report’s How Coronavirus Made Andrew Cuomo America’s Governor, he is described as having a take-charge attitude in a comforting manner. 

“And while Cuomo is technically only in charge of the matter as it affects the Empire State, political observers say he is filling the leadership role for people across the nation.” 


Mark Cuban

When the pandemic started affecting NBA teams and scheduled games were postponed, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made a commitment to pay all arena workers inside American Airlines Center. Since that decision, other teams and even players from across the sports world have followed suit by announcing plans to help compensate workers who are typically paid by the hour.

Sometimes all it takes is one person to take the lead and set an example. Smart leaders take their cue and join in. 


Julie Sweet

Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, whose consulting firm employs 505,000 people worldwide, is implementing adaptive measures with a prolonged interruption in mind. “This uncertain period requires transparency and calm from company leaders,” she says. She recently told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer, “What we’re trying to do is put in the infrastructure and the connections for our people and with our clients as if it may last for a very long time.” 

Sweet’s approach is to combine anticipation and preparation with transparency and calm. For more than three decades, Accenture senior management has worked around the globe, coordinating their efforts remotely. So adjusting to the pandemic shift has been fairly seamless. As she told Yahoo Finance, “First, it’s sometimes comforting to just acknowledge both to your employees and clients that we don’t know what’s going on, but that we’re focused on making sure that we’re navigating as it comes.” 


Robert Glazer

Bob Glazer is the founder and CEO of a global performance marketing agency, Acceleration Partners. A regular columnist for Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur, he shares his ideas and insights via Friday Forward, a popular weekly inspirational newsletter that reaches individuals and business leaders across the globe.

In a recent post, he said:

During difficult times it can be helpful to have a clearly defined purpose and put our energy and talents toward helping others. Rather than looking upstream at what is coming your way, try to focus downstream on the people who depend on you.

This mindset has helped me redefine my own short-term purpose: to keep as many people employed as possible. I feel very fortunate to work in an industry with a unique business model that helps make this possible.


6 Tips for Effective Crisis Leadership


1. Stay connected. When employees are working remotely, it’s more important than ever to maintain open lines of communication and help keep the team connected. Try to provide as much routine as possible. If weekly meetings were the norm in the office, then hold weekly video conferences. The video component is important because visual connections are more effective. Build-in additional connection points with individuals and teams as needed. Here is an example:

        • Hold daily or regular check-in video conference meetings. Start or end the day with a 10-15 minute “coffee connection,” and give team members a chance to share how they are feeling. Why is that so important? Because by not talking about hard or difficult things, the elephant in the room maintains power. When we own and name those difficult things, it gives us power. As a suggestion, ask people to share one-word answers for two questions:
            • How are you feeling?
            • What’s one thing you’re grateful for?  

Your people want and crave connection, and need opportunities to share their feelings. They need to know that they are not alone in this.

2. Provide information. In times of uncertainty, it’s important to be transparent, calm and forthcoming with information. Do not shy away from what is happening, or try to sugar coat reality. Act according to what’s best for the organization, and not for personal gain. Understand that employees will have questions, especially in the beginning. Know that there will be bumps along the way, and in a fluid situation, be prepared to update information on a regular basis.

3. Promote open communication. In unprecedented times, people deal with a range of overwhelming emotions, including fear, anxiety, worry, and nervousness. Leaders must reassure their workforce, offer guidance for dealing with change, and provide opportunities for teams to talk about how they’re feeling and doing. Make it easy for people to touch base with each other and discuss any difficulties they’re dealing with.

4. Consider the big picture. Think about how you can serve the larger community, beyond your corporate walls. In the case of COVID-19, keep people informed of new developments and follow the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Realize that health, safety, and well-being are paramount. You will have employees dealing with their own illness, or being a caretaker for friends and family members. Develop new models and practices to accommodate an ever-changing corporate landscape.

5. Share your vision. What’s the light at the end of the tunnel? Be that Cuomo-like beacon of hope by balancing honesty and information with hope for the future. Offer reassurance, and describe how you see things once the crisis is over. Share your vision for overcoming obstacles, rising to the occasion and persevering until things get better.

6. Highlight the positive. The antidote for fear, anxiety, and constriction is gratitude. Yes, you need to be honest and realistic, but also make a point to shed light on positive things. Share good news and find ways to practice gratitude. Incorporate opportunities for teams to do so as well.


What Do You Need In Times of Crisis?


Tell us about your own personal work situation. How are leaders in your organization managing during this time of change, and what is or isn’t effective? What leadership qualities do you think are the most important during times of crisis? We’d love to hear your feedback and specific examples. Go ahead, start a conversation below. 


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