What Covid-19 Has Taught Us About Leading Through a Crisis

TASA ID: 1056

Leading always has challenges! However, we have never had to lead through a crisis like Covid-19. The past three months have brought challenges like no other. During a time of crisis, leaders are required to lead and manage effectively. Managing the urgent needs of the present and taking decisive actions. Strong leaders guide people to the best possible eventual outcomes, which demand seeing beyond the present in order to anticipate obstacles ahead.

To make things more complicated, intense pressure makes it even more difficult to think clearly. Situational pressure can lead to significant changes in mindset and leadership style. In the best cases, leaders discover new talents and strengths. Conversely, some leaders can revert to negative behaviors they may have worked hard to overcome.

As we come out of the Covid-19 crisis, we need to step back and reflect on how we lead under the toughest of circumstances. While the basic fundamentals of good leadership still apply, certain qualities become increasingly important. The following are a few critical behaviors for leaders to adopt, not only in times of crisis, but in everyday business:

Put people first: It is easy to get absorbed in managing the processes needed to keep the business running during a crisis. However, we cannot overlook the human factor. Emotionally intelligent leaders pay close attention to the ability of their employees to adapt and function through the crisis. They recognize that each individual has different needs, coping mechanisms and different levels of resilience. For example: people who are internally motivated, disciplined and self-sufficient work well remotely. Others struggle when working from home because they need the routine, accountability and camaraderie that most office environments provide.

Good leaders should often check in with their employees, to assess how they are doing and what support they need. These leaders create many opportunities for team interaction, such as morning huddles, virtual coffee breaks, lunches and happy hours to keep the team connected.

Don’t let your fear interfere with your ability to lead: Our behavior and emotions are generally influenced by other people. Research shows that the tendency toward emotional contagion and copying other people’s behaviors is present, even in times of calm. Fear is nearly 100% contagious making it very easy to be overwhelmed by the chaos and panic around us. During a crisis, your employees, suppliers and customers look to you, as a leader to give them a sense of calm. Navigating through a crisis, such as Covid-19, requires a level of calm fortitude.

Effective leaders know that fear is uncomfortable, but not tragic. They pay close attention to their inner feelings and avoid discussing their fears. They find a phrase or motto and repeat it over and over, such as “We will make it through this time together” or “We are going to be ok.”

Monitor your personal status: Leading in a crisis requires you to manage yourself so that you have the physical and mental energy to go the distance. Leaders often deny that their personal stress is an issue. They tend to believe that stress only applies to others. They worry that any signs of fatigue or stress may impact the perception of their abilities. Smart leaders pace themselves to finish and win.

Stay realistic and positive: Acknowledging reality, fully exploring worst-case scenarios, exploring all options and having a clear plan are essential in times of crisis. Effective leaders recognize that fear, of worst-case scenarios, can affect our mindset in a way that can be paralyzing. In times of crisis, people need to believe that they will get through this and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Leaders need to continually portray positivity. We must continue to focus on what we can do, rather than what we can’t do. Just as fear is contagious, so is positivity.

Leaders must be resilient: Resilience is the process of adapting well in times of adversity, threats, tragedy, or significant stress. This resilience applies to the organization and every member of the team. The more resilient we are, the faster we rebound and the more capable we are of seeing challenges as growth opportunities. Resilience is not necessarily an inherent trait; it can be learned. It takes focus, determination and repetition. Skilled leaders build resilient organizations and team members by focusing on positive thinking and finding meaning and growth opportunities in challenges. Strong leaders stress that times of adversity present opportunity to grow our courage and strength.

Lead with purpose: Times of crisis is an opportunity to reinforce and unite your team around the organizations core values and purpose. Abstract ideas should get translated into meaningful actions. Your values and purpose provide a compass for you to provide direction and motivation. Purpose-driven leaders take the time to communicate the vision of who the organization needs to be during the crisis, recognize accomplishments and keep everyone updated on changes to the strategy.

Stay agile: Leading through a crisis requires quick thinking, coordination, speed, balance, and correct responses to the ever-changing situation. Effective leaders are always thinking ahead. They keep their team grounded by focusing on the immediate goals and developing several pathways to achieve them. As events emerge, you must have the agility, flexibility and ingenuity to adapt quickly.

Take the time to reflect: Now is a good time to reflect on what we’ve learned from the past several months. Reflection will give us the opportunity to see the issues and patterns in order to make meaning of the information. Research is compelling that reflection leads to better decision-making and the confidence to take bold action.

As you begin reflecting on the experiences of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, consider the following:

  • What have you learned about yourself as a leader?
  • What new strengths have you discovered in yourself and within your team?
  • How resilient and agile have you and your team been?
  • How agile and resilient has your organization been?
  • As a result of the crisis, are there any shifts in mindset, behaviors and/or processes that you want to carry forward?
  • What have you learned that will better prepare you and the organization for the next crisis?

It is inevitable that we will face future crisis. Hopefully, none to the magnitude of Covid-19! Reflecting on what we learned from the past several months and acting on the lessons learned will make us stronger leaders and better prepared for the future.

TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author (TASA Id# 1056). Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.

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