Leaders at all levels are being challenged today by the multitude of business leadership issues arising from the Coronavirus epidemic. The challenges are significant – from how one takes care of their employees, to how to best communicate with your customers or clients, to how to stay on top of the situation from day to day.
In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser talks about leading through the Coronavirus epidemic. Topics discussed include crisis leadership, crisis management frameworks, crisis communications, customer communications, cross-functional business leadership, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and more.
Related Episodes & Blog Posts
- Episode #44: Successful crisis characteristics
- Episode #47: A crisis team is not an academic debating society
- Episode #94: Personal and family preparedness for Coronavirus
- Episode #95: Lessons learned to date from the Coronavirus fight
- Blog Post: Making Decisions in the Midst of a Crisis
Hello and welcome to the managing uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, principal and chief executive here at Bryghtpath. I’m solo again today. And, I want to talk about leadership in a crisis, focusing on what’s going on with coronavirus. And, what this really means from a crisis leadership perspective.
I think, without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis unlike any other we’ve seen in recent times. I’ve been involved in crisis management since about 2000. So, 20 years now. And, in all of the different crisis situations, active shooter situations, homicides, pandemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters that have happened, this is far beyond anything that I’ve ever seen before.
It’s certainly not a time where there’s a playbook that you can pull out and say, “Well, here’s what we should do.” Down to every step. Those days are really behind us now. Leaders facing this crisis today, crisis leaders, business leaders, who may not have a lot of experience in crisis management are really facing a significant amount of uncertainty and really just sheer unpredictability at this point as this crisis unfolds.
I mean, look at some of the challenges that business leaders are faced with right now. There’s a fearful workforce. We’re looking at a really shaky economic foundation. We have a customer and consumer marketplace that’s bordering on panic. I mean, for God’s sake, people are buying out all the toilet paper that’s out there. And, we don’t know what steps the government may choose to take tomorrow in order to address the crisis that’s in front of them or that is headed at them in the coming days.
All of these decisions have an impact on our business. McKinsey, the consulting firm, is out with a study recently, or, a look at the current virus crisis where they state that this is really a landscape-scale crisis. This is a term a couple of Harvard business school professors came up with few years back. But, it’s an unexpected event or sequence of events of enormous scale and overwhelming speed resulting in a high degree of uncertainty that gives rise to disorientation, a feeling of lost control, and strong emotional disturbance.
But, we know that, in any crisis situation, strong crisis leadership makes a huge difference. So, with that in mind, let’s talk about some leadership lessons for the times ahead. I want to start with a little bit about just the characteristics of a strong crisis leader. And, for me, this really starts with something that I learned in my career at Target, which is that leaders need to keep it real with their teams.
And, by that, I mean that it’s not a time for false bravado or overconfidence. It’s time to just be straight forward and be real with your employees. It’s a great opportunity to communicate with empathy. But, be direct with them about the realities of the situation, about the challenges ahead. And, not to be, as I said, not to be overconfident, but, project some confidence about the road ahead. That we will be okay at the end of this.
It’s a great opportunity for leaders to think about their authenticity in how they communicate. And, to make sure that they’re sharing stories of their team is they manage through the adversity of the situation. And, there are always great stories to highlight from your employees. And, that’s what you want to do during this time.
Strong crisis leaders practice cross-functional leadership within their organizations. We think about how they lead and communicate upwardly within the organization. But, more importantly, we think about how they lead and communicate across the organization. Strong crisis leaders are the silo busters. They’ve built strong organizational relationships across the organization. And, it enables them to cut across those horizontally to get things done. To lead and communicate about what’s going on.
Strong crisis leaders can shift seamlessly between the strategic and the tactical. Strategic. They see the whole organization for what it is. They see the external influences, relationships, and incoming threats. But, they also see the tactical.
They know how to take that information, synthesize collaboratively tactical decisions that need to be done, and they drive those tactical decisions through those tactical decisions onward to execution across the organization.
Strong crisis leaders recognize that success for the company, for your organization, is never going to happen in a single silo. It’s not going to come just from the finance team, just from the security team, just from I-T, or just from communications. It requires cross-functional solutions. And, those are harder to put together and harder to achieve and harder to drive.
And, strong crisis leaders also possess extraordinary situational awareness. They are ones who have a strategic vision. They see across the organization. And, they understand the situation, its threats, the position of the company against those threats, and what else is coming at you. They see that. And, they’re able to communicate that across the silos through your crisis management process.
So, those are some characteristics of strong crisis leaders. It’s also important right now to recognize as leaders that this is not a routine crisis. We are way beyond routine crisis at this point. But, in a routine crisis situation, we reached for that checklist, that specific plan for this crisis. And, we start executing upon that. And, that’s not going to work here. Because we’re at a point where there is no scripted response to coronavirus.
Instead, leaders need to promote rapid problem-solving. They need to establish clear priorities for their organization. They need to empower others to discover and implement solutions that serve those priorities that they’ve established. In other words, we’re in that very area that we talk about with a crisis management framework. We can’t have a plan for this because we’ve never been here before. We’ve never experienced this before. But, we can collaborate, we can problem-solve, we can set priorities, we can foster collaboration and transparency across the organization. As crisis leaders, we can drive that within the company.
It’s also time to promote open dialogue and build trust between teams and across the organization. Because, if there was ever a time where we needed to openly discuss ideas and questions and concerns and have a healthy debate and disagree and have a dialogue about what’s the right priorities for right now, what are the things that we need to do, this is the time. And, doing so, having those candid discussions as a crisis team, will result in better decisions to move your organization through the challenges ahead.
Leaders right now need to establish an architecture for decision making. A framework. Hopefully, you have a crisis management framework. But, if you don’t, this is your chance to build an architecture to make those decisions through collaboration. Doing so will allow for clear accountability in your company and making sure that decisions are being made by the right leaders at the right level.
Right now we want senior leaders to demonstrate emotional intelligence. Extensive, deliberate calm is how McKinsey highlighted this in their recent report on crisis leadership during this situation. They defined deliberate calm as the ability to detach from a fraught situation and think clearly about how one will navigate the challenge in front of them.
When I look for crisis leaders in organizations, I look for that emotional intelligence. And, I think that’s an important part right now. Companies need that deliberate calm at the top in the executive team, in your crisis management team in order to take a rational and clear-eyed view of the crisis that’s in front of us.
And, then, lastly, in a crisis, leaders need to put their teams first. There’s a lot of fear in our workforces right now. There’s a lot of fear. Employees are worried about being sick, about their families and loved ones getting sick, about providing childcare for their children, and about how do they educate their kids now that the schools are closed across the country. And, might be closed for months.
Businesses and their leaders have a chance to make sure that they’re putting their teams first. And, having a positive impact on their lives. You also want to make sure, as the leader, as the crisis leader, that folks are getting a break. And, that includes you getting a break. For one of our clients, I’m recording this on a Saturday, for one of our clients today is their executive team’s first day off in the last three weeks. And, I’m glad that they made the decision to do so. Because there’s a long fight yet still to happen. But, we need to make sure that folks are getting rest. Because, when you don’t have rest you will make poor decisions. And, you won’t communicate as well. So, start thinking about what that battle rhythm, that cadence, and fight is going to look like in the long haul.
Leaders want to pay careful attention right now to how their teams are managing the situation. Where they are struggling. And, then, take measures to support them as you work through the days and weeks ahead with coronavirus. This is the time right now for strong leaders, strong crisis management leaders to emerge. And, we want to encourage them to do so. And, I hope that’s all of you.
We’d love to hear your leadership lessons and recommendations that are working for you during this trying time. Drop us a note firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your thoughts and reactions and your advice to a leader during this trying time.
That’s it for this episode of the managing uncertainty podcast. We’ll be back soon with another new episode. Thanks for listening. Be well.