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Leadership And Other Lessons: What The Pandemic Teaches About Crisis Management originally appeared on Forbes.com.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic this year put business and organizational leaders on the spot unlike anything else in recent memory. Even if you were following the story of the virus’s spread, governmental decisions to shut down certain sectors of the economy came shockingly swiftly. Many business leaders had to make monumental decisions in real time — right away — knowing the impact on their employees would be extraordinary.
How’d you do? If your organization’s transition to the new normal has been less than smooth, don’t spend too much time dwelling on the negative. Most organizational decisions aren’t perfect — and those made quickly and amid a panic-inducing public health emergency will almost always require some adjustments.
As the crisis moves along, leaders need to avail themselves of this remarkable opportunity to pause, recognize and in some way record the lessons learned. Here are a few to keep in mind.
You can’t prepare for everything. There was no shortage of articles about crisis management before the pandemic. Most advise identifying potential disasters and preparing your organization as best you can for the usual suspects, such as natural disasters, a public relations setback or even civil unrest, which has been a very real risk to some businesses this year.
But a pandemic that shuts down a relatively healthy economy and puts millions of people out of work? There was no playbook for that. Leaders were essentially on their own to determine the risk level to their organizations and act quickly and accordingly.
At the same time, however, the Covid-19 crisis didn’t come completely out of left field. Concerns about the virus had been building in the news for weeks, and public health officials have been warning both government and business leaders for years about the possibility of a pandemic.
Lesson to remember: Keep up with the news with an eye on developing stories that could affect your organization and industry. Discuss credible threats with your management team and advisors. If a consensus exists that a contingency plan is necessary, develop one.
When The Time Comes, Lead
Crises cause confusion; it’s what they do. When a catastrophe strikes, you may naturally want to research the details, meet with your management team and very carefully decide what to do next. There’s nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind that leaders lead. Although accessing accurate information is critical, beware of the possibility that the very information you’re seeking to make a good decision could keep you from acting decisively.
In other words, indecision is something to actively battle against. If you spend too much time pulling together data, and worry too much about making the wrong decision, the situation could move along so quickly that you end up making no decision at all — which is often worse.
One way many leaders cope with this pressure is by applying an approach called the OODA loop. U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd developed this to help fighter pilots deal with the sudden, chaotic life-and-death engagements they typically face in combat. Those four letters stand for:
The reason it’s called the OODA loop is that the process doesn’t end there. After acting, you start again at the beginning by observing the consequences of your decisive action, orienting yourself to how it has affected the situation, and so on.
Lesson to remember: Whether it’s OODA or some other method, choose and develop a process for making decisions in a crisis and carrying out your role as a leader.
Practice Compassionate Communication
Crises tend to create a vacuum in which everyone’s attention is drawn into the catastrophe itself, and employees’ ability to function normally and productively is greatly diminished or even incapacitated. Think back on the first few weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some workers couldn’t function; others could do nothing else but bury themselves in their jobs.
This is precisely when leadership must step in to communicate clearly about what’s going on. It’s not easy. Accurate information is typically in short supply at the beginning of a crisis, and you and your management team may not have had time to develop a clear action plan. Yet an identifiable and trusted leadership voice is critical.
Also important is the regularity of communication. If employees don’t hear from you often and at predictable intervals, that vacuum mentioned above can find renewed power and start pulling people’s minds into it. Initiatives such as daily email updates and weekly or biweekly meetings help provide workers with clear direction and reassure them that you and your team are working on solutions to the crisis.
Finally, it’s worth noting the importance of compassionate communication. A leader who conveys the right tone — that is, a caring voice — will quell many of the unfounded fears that arise in difficult times and help employees stay focused on getting done what they can. Regularly emphasize that you care about workers’ well-being, not just their productivity. Encourage them to take the time off that they have available. Remind them of any mental health benefits that your organization may offer.
Lesson to remember: During hard times, we all tend to look up to someone who can provide guidance and comfort. An important aspect of every leader’s job is to play this role for your team members during a crisis.
Heed Its Lessons Well
The Covid-19 crisis represents one of the greatest tests of leadership in modern history. Take a moment to commend yourself on rising to this incredible challenge as best you could when it first developed. By recognizing and heeding its lessons going forward, you’ll be enriching your own leadership knowledge and, in turn, be better able to contribute to your organization’s success.
Original post by Lynda Silsbee
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.