How should company leaders react during a crisis with their teams?
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
In times of uncertainty and angst employees will probably not be themselves. So, how can company leaders handle uncertainty and ambiguity in their organization? The global spread of a virus and an economic meltdown will certainly test the grit of everyone.
Today humanity faces an acute crisis, not only due to the coronavirus, but also due to the lack of trust between humans. In a pandemic, people need to trust scientific experts, public authorities, and companies. We are facing a crisis of shortage in global corporate leaders that can inspire, organize, and finance a coordinated global response to address a specific crisis.
Panic makes people want to act right now, but leaders should be aware that most of the actions they will be tempted to take may not be the most prudent in the face of a pandemic. There are many actions/statements companies should take over the next several weeks and months, but the decision to act should be based on deliberation, reflection on data and facts, and discussion with experts — not in reaction to a headline or a tweet.
In a recent Edelman Report, published amid this coronavirus crisis, it shows that the most credible source of information is employer communications. The Trust Barometer showed that “my employer” was the most trusted institution by 18 points over businesses and NGOs, and by 27 points over government and media. A company and its leaders are the most credible source of information about the coronavirus, according to 63% of respondents.
Leaders should be an inspiration. But they should also be cautious in how they handle their teams during times of crisis. Like so many things, a positive trait taken to the extreme can turn into something negative. Too much of a good thing can create a barrier to getting things done and building ineffective relationships. For companies, for example, this is can be frequently seen in bosses overemphasizing perfection, which can result in an inability to innovate in employees. Perfection can get in the way of progress, or as Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Holding out for perfection before seeking a development opportunity, delaying a team’s progress until everything is just right, or being overly critical of ideas can impede individuals, teams, and companies to grow.
During periods of crisis, it is normal that companies work on a trial and error basis, as well as leaders. However, it is important to identify those errors, so that in a future crisis, leaders can avoid making those same mistakes. Below, five common errors leaders should avoid during a crisis.
Being overly competitive
A leader’s one - man show is no longer an option. Teamwork is an essential component to effectively manage a crisis. Leaders should assembly their regular teams or construct new ones that cover all areas that need to be addressed (situational room or business continuity group). Collaboration across all areas of the organization is key to effectively carry out a business continuity plan. Leaders need to consider that when selecting tasks or objectives for their teams they have to be realistic; as a company you are not going to overpower COVID - 19 alone, it has to be as a society, as a whole, so be careful with pressure, putting too much stress in your employees can have an undesired effect.
Micromanaging is the enemy of collaboration. Pressure on small teams to complete certain tasks, but always with the eyes and ears of the leaders at their selves at all times can be detrimental and affect the capacity to find solutions. Leaders can´t go over every tweet or action needed to be communicated or taken. If a leader micromanages the response to a crisis, it can cause delay in solving the problem; the employee loses time waiting for permission to do anything. Leaders should give employees freedom and confidence to act within the guidelines.
Communication of leaders with their teams should be smooth. Information overload increases the risk of distractibility, making it hard for your employees to remain aware and focused on the objectives. Distractibility is when your mind jumps from one thing to the other. It is not the same as agility. It is following whatever calls for attention, without strategic focus or diligent prioritization. On another part, agility is the ability to stay with a single-pointed attention mind on the task at hand and effectively execute the priorities.
Being a perfectionist
Perfectionism is bad in a crisis. A leader should understand that mistakes will be made. Speed trumps perfection, it is the enemy of crisis management. Perfectionism is often associated with avoiding criticism. To improve continuously and pursue accomplishments, feedback is key. You need to know how you are doing, and how you can do better. Feedback can be steppingstones to build skills and talent.
Forgetting about humility
Humility is as important a trait as any other. Leaders need to understand that they did not achieve their position without the help of others. If you want to be a great leader, start by recognizing the people who helped you get to where you are today. If you want to be influential, find people who have the nerve to disagree with you but respect their opinion. Criticism is not always mean; it can be a way to let someone know they can do better. However, the words you choose are the key, they can make all the difference in how someone perceives the comment.
The idea is for a leader to try to reduce as much as possible these five common errors. If achieved, the employee’s sense of belonging to the company will increase, as well as overall improvement of the internal communication of the organization.
Bottom line is, in a crisis, people need leadership. That is what companies should be striving to demonstrate, no matter how difficult the times may be. Without trust and global solidarity, we will not be able to stop the coronavirus pandemic nor any other similar contingency that may come, and we are likely to see more pandemics in the future. But every crisis is also an opportunity. Maybe, the current situation will help humankind realize the acute danger posed by global disunity.
Isabella Miralles is a social communicator from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), as well as an advisor of strategic and corporate communications. You can find her on Twitter at @isaMiralles and on Medium at isaMiralles.