4 things leaders should do when crisis disrupts people

April 13, 2020

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis our daily lives were so hectic with work, family, activities and deadlines. We felt as if we couldn’t catch up. It was a never-ending routine that recycled itself repeatedly. It gave us some level of satisfaction – although oftentimes we didn’t recognize or respect what we were or were not accomplishing. Our journey towards any level of success or significance was overshadowed by exhaustion and knowing that we had to garner the strength and focus to keep going.

This crisis has suddenly disrupted our lives and interrupted our routines. We’ve become anxious, and for many, in a state of panic. We’ve become a bit disoriented.

This crisis is so personal it impacts us on so many different levels.

For me personally, it has propelled several anxious moments in support and love of my mother, wife, daughter, brother, team, clients, etc. My daily routine would no longer have the same significance it once had. My new normal has now been fueled with a sense of urgency, focus and responsibility to fully unleash my individual capacity to help others cope with the crisis.

This crisis is a significant moment for all leaders. A moment that will either define them – or a moment that they will seize the opportunity to serve others as individuals, because of what they decided to do – in this moment.

Here are four things leaders should do when crisis disrupts people:

Be part of the solution: Unleash your individual capacity

Think of the last time you fully optimized and activated your teams, your colleagues and/or a mentor. How did you feel when you influenced the outcome(s) of something important? What was it about those moments that made you feel that your contribution really mattered?

Your individual capacity can be summarized by answering the following four questions. Think carefully about these questions and then I will share an example:

First, what is unique about the way you think?

Second, what gives you distinction as a leader?

Third, what do others expect from your presence?

And finally, what types of solutions do you consistently deliver?

Be human: Share your personal stories

Everyone wants to know what their leaders are thinking and feeling. It’s human nature for employees to be curious about how their leaders are coping with and handling the crisis. This is a moment for leaders to invite employees inside of their hearts and minds. This is a moment to share personal stories with others. For example, when I shared my personal story, I received several emails of concern from my team and friends offering to help me cope with my mother’s current medical situation.

When leaders share their personal stories, employees see them as human as they learn about who their leaders are as individuals. A special bond fueled with commonalities forms. Don’t ever assume that leaders aren’t capable of doing something kind and/or significant in support of an employee’s personal life. Employees should expect that from their leaders. If not, that individual is not qualified to be a leader. Unfortunately for many, this crisis is exposing many leaders of their inability to lead in today’s age of personalization.

A great leader is the one who can effectively communicate with authenticity and purpose, unscripted.

Be empathetic: Empathy is at a premium

Every employee confronts a crisis differently and copes with it on their own terms. It’s easy to judge when you may not know an employee as intimately as you think you do. Our past defines our present. Show empathy towards those employees that cope with crisis in a way you may either disagree with or find it hard to understand.

It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and/or in their minds – during crisis. Remember, crisis can disorient many from their natural tendencies and behaviors. Creating an empathetic moment is when you can open your mind and your heart to respect the unique points of view of the employee(s) you serve.

Learn and improve: Allow the crisis to elevate your readiness for the future

Anthropologist, Scott Lacy enlightened me with the following insight: “A crisis of this magnitude has the power of putting us all in a state of disorientation – because we can’t lean on the old standards and those things that used to give us comfort. They aren’t as relevant anymore. And in the new normal that awaits us, those old standards and comforts may never come back. We must refresh and replenish our minds and adopt new ways of thinking. We must all take this moment to prepare ourselves for the future.”

So, what does readiness look like?

Being real, genuine and vulnerable in-the-moment. In crisis, no one has all the answers. The right mindset allows leaders to think clearly to best identify how the crisis has impacted (or will impact) their teams, their colleagues, their organization and even themselves.

Which of the old standards still apply and how many now are outdated? Have you engaged with those you intend to serve on a more personal level? Or do you still think you need to “play the part”?

Take note of the great decisions you’ve made. Recognize the outcomes from your great ones and what you would do to further improve those decisions and the outcomes they bring.

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