Leading in a crisis can make you question everything you know about leadership. You will need to think and act in ways that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable to you. You are not alone, and even the most successful and confident leader will be challenged during this time. Remaining calm and having a sense of perspective while focusing on moving from surviving to thriving is vitally important. To accomplish this, a leader must provide clear vision, effective communication with stakeholders, and a laser focus on the execution of tactical plans.

Clear Vision

In a crisis, a leader needs to develop a clear vision and comprehensive strategy to ensure the business will thrive on the other side of the crisis. The strategy should start with the values of the business as the foundation and then include tactical plans to actively manage and mitigate current and anticipated risks while sustaining current and future cash flows. This is done by identifying game-changing information in and on the periphery of your industry, processing the information quickly, rapidly determining what matters most, and making decisions. You need to ensure your business does not grind to a halt due to paralysis analysis but focuses on business continuity. Successful leaders maintain this focus even in a crisis.

Effective leaders also take personal ownership of what is happening around them. They understand relationships matter even more during a crisis, and they face their own emotions, show respect for others, and make sure they and their leadership team are grounded, visible, and available. You need to model the behavior you want others to do within your organization. During this time, reach out to your customers, suppliers, and team members to make sure they are doing okay in this time of crisis.

As the situation stabilizes, look to how your team responded in the crisis. Which team members rose to the occasion? Which team members could see what was needed to get things done quickly and efficiently? These reactions will tell you a great deal about your team and help you to develop a succession plan as you revise your strategic plan to address your new normal.

Communication with Stakeholders

The need for ongoing communication with key stakeholders cannot be stressed enough.  Stakeholders include employees, customers, vendors, owners, lenders, and the community.  Successful organizations identify all key stakeholders, take the time to understand their needs and expectations, and then clearly articulate how the company’s plan meets those needs and expectations.  Leaders also need to communicate what the company needs from those stakeholders to execute the plan.

Be sure to communicate frequently with these internal and external stakeholders while bringing and maintaining perspective about the crisis. Being transparent about what solutions your company is pursuing rather than just communicating the issues will allow you to get ahead of the crisis.

During this time, it is your job to address all stakeholders with honesty, a clear accounting of the challenges your business is facing, an invitation for feedback as well as credible hope that your business has the resources needed to overcome the challenges.

Execution of the Plan

Execution includes planning, organizing, directing, and controlling activities to ensure you realize the vision of the organization and achieve the desired outcome. You should make smart trade-offs, name your decision-makers, embrace action, and do not punish mistakes.  The use of a daily dashboard of metrics created to monitor your company performance against your priorities will allow you the ability to make transparent and proactive decisions. This will also develop a culture of accountability and alignment.

A successful leader will engage with their team, empathizing with their circumstances and distractions, and motivating and engaging them while focusing on health and safety. Daily pulse checks with individual people in your organization, collecting and sharing positive messages, acknowledging their fears, and encouraging resolve can assist you with this engagement.

Do not forget to reach out to your customers and ask how you can help them. And while having empathy for your team is important, it is just as important to have empathy for yourself. Keep your mind and body in fighting shape to maintain your focus.

And lastly, adapt boldly to your new normal. Circumstances will continue to change as the crisis abates, so seek input and information from many sources, admit what you do not know, bring in outside expertise when needed. Encourage team members to experiment and learn without fear of repercussions due to failure. Throw out yesterday’s “playbook” and work with your team to continue to reassess what your new vision will look like after the crisis abates.

Remember, everyone is going through the same situation at the same time right now – how you handle it will be what defines you as a leader.

You are not alone. At DWH, we’re here for you, even remotely. Let us know what we can do to help. A lot of our clients have questions about what this all means for them, what options and conditions for support or exemptions apply, what implications are for team members, how to mitigate business value erosion, how to manage communications with banks/creditors/vendors/customers, etc.  Although we don’t have all the answers, we are here to help you.  Please feel free to reach out.

Authored by: Heather Gardner, Senior Director

Getting to know you before getting to know your business.

Is your company experiencing change? Let us come alongside. It starts with a conversation.