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Leadership during COVID-19: Seven steps to restore control

March 25, 2020 Article 3 min read
Stan Hannah
Leading your organization is already challenging enough — COVID-19 has made it even more difficult. Read our tips for success—and then see how you stack up.
Female professional looking at tabletAt this point, you’ve heard it countless times: the COVID-19 crisis is, in a word, unprecedented. For business leaders, even on a good day, feeling a sense of control over the future can be an elusive goal. Today, it might seem almost impossible. Long-held plans can change at a moment’s notice. You’re forced to make decisions quickly as you receive new information. Maybe the gravity of the pandemic required your workforce to completely adapt to a remote work environment, virtually overnight.

During this time of uncertainty, it’s natural to experience anxiety and fear. But it also provides opportunities for leaders to demonstrate empathy, put people first, and showcase the best parts of themselves. Restoring a sorely missed sense of control will help keep you on this positive trajectory.

To that end, we’ve created a checklist for successfully leading your organization through the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Be strategic when determining business priorities.

It might be tempting to drop everything during a crisis, but becoming paralyzed by uncertainty isn’t a viable option. Instead, take a step back and review your inventory of actions. Select the ones that are critical to moving your business forward. Then fine-tune and reset these objectives as needed so they can be accomplished amid a global crisis. This process will provide confidence that you’re channeling your energy where it matters most.

2. Communicate your crisis response with empathy and on a timely basis.

The longer you hold on to unlikely plans and objectives, the more difficult it will be to manage your staff’s disappointment. Be upfront and transparent in letting people know that processes will be changing until further notice. Some projects and plans will inevitably be canceled or put on hold. Communicate any bad news with empathy, and assure your staff that promoting wellness and safety is at the heart of your decision-making process right now.

3. Stay accessible and commit to an established cadence of check-ins.

With COVID-19, the situations you’re coping with can change by the hour. If there’s a need to communicate important updates and critical decisions, be prepared to do so in real-time. Set up designated times when your team can speak with you or ask questions. Even if you already have a good rapport with your colleagues, reassure them that you’re accessible during this time of rapid change.

4. Empower the right people to make decisions.

If you’re naturally inclined to remain highly involved on projects, it’s especially important now to keep that impulse in check. You will quickly be stretched thin — and potentially delay important actions — if you try to be involved in every decision. Instead, be adaptive and allow others to assume roles of greater responsibility. Set clear expectations for decision-making authority with your team, and then give them your trust.

5. Train your team and create knowledge transfer plans.

While many team members might be tech-savvy, not everyone will be prepared to use technology as required for maximum efficiency. Your IT team can help. For example, if video conferencing will be the “new normal” for your organization, ask your IT team to create how-to or FAQ documentation for commonly used software features. An instructional video or mini training sessions are other ways to help your staff feel ready to perform at their best.

Training might also need to extend beyond IT. One of the scariest things about COVID-19 is that anyone at your organization could become unwell at any time. As a leader, be prepared to guide experienced colleagues on how to perform key aspects of a role, in the event they need to step in for a team member who is unable to work.

6. Normalize social distancing.

If it’s essential for you to visit a factory or office to perform your work, follow the social distancing behaviors recommended by public health experts. Maintain physical space between yourself and others — no one should feel pressured to put themselves at risk. Use the term “social distancing” in conversation so the concept can evolve from an optional practice to a required behavior. Also, remember that social distancing refers to physical distance — making social connections with clients, customers, and staff is still important and feasible in today’s digital world.

7. Be patient with yourself.

Leading an organization through a crisis can be very difficult. Learn to forgive yourself for not having all the right answers right away. Check your pride at the door and don’t shy away from seeking opinions and suggestions from others.

Need more advice? We’re here to listen to your needs and be an unbiased advocate.

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