4 Critical Skills to Lead Through Crisis
4 Critical Skills to Lead Through Crisis
A Chinese proverb states, “May you live in interesting times.” We’re certainly living in interesting times. COVID-19 provides us with the opportunity to shift our thinking and to shatter paradigms.
Today I want to share insight into four critical skills that I have learned through leading in a pandemic – decision making, communication, expectation setting, and understanding people who are in crisis mode.
- Pinpoint decision making. In a volatile and uncertain world, pick your North Star— the guiding principle that will be over all of the decisions you will make. Pick it thoughtfully, and pick it well, because you are going to need to hold up thousands of decisions against it. Is your guiding principle survival? Or family first? Or people over profit? My guiding principle was the preservation of our mission. I lead an organization that has been a bedrock in this community for 94 years. I ask myself daily – “what am I doing today, at this moment, to ensure this mission continues?”
- Simplify communication. People are overwhelmed with information, and they are overwhelmed with life. Think about it. Many of you are working full times jobs remotely, and you are homeschooling multiple children. As leaders, we must speak simple truths that are easy to grasp. I summarize Loretto’s COVID strategy in nine simple words: “Short term: liquidity. Midterm: solvency. Long term: sustainability.” There are definitions and tactics under each of these, but nine words, simply stated and clearly understood.
- Be hopeful and realistic in your expectations. No matter what people, organizations, and governments tell you they are going to do for you, believe in hope, because people are well-intentioned. They want to help. But acknowledge those intentions in the context of reality. Apply a 50% discount factor for the obstacles that will stand between best intentions and reality. The same can be said for managing the expectations of others. Be hopeful and aspirational, but call it what it is – hopeful and aspirational. Then offer a more tempered, realistic view and identify the obstacles that may stand in the way of your best-case scenario. Also, be honest about what you know and what you don’t know.
- Take time to understand the people you’re managing. This is also known as the good, the bad, and the ugly. COVID-19 has given us all the opportunity to see the best and the worst in people’s behavior. We’ve seen unprecedented levels of support for health care workers, and armed militias storm statehouses demanding to open their states. Thirty-three million Americans are unemployed, and we will see 100,000 deaths by June 1. Did I mention we’re in inning 2 of a 9-inning baseball game? We’re all seeing high levels of anger, frustration, and risk-taking. Identify and understand what these emotions and actions mean so you can set better expectations and lead your team. Here are a few notes on my observations.
- Anger—Anger is a reaction to a sense of uncertainty and a lack of control. It’s intended to empower the person to face the unknown with a sense of being right. An example we’re seeing is people killing each other over who is or is not wearing a mask.
- Impatience—The economic hardship caused by COVID-19 is placing people on the lowest rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy—survival mode. You cannot expect everyone to be generous if they are in a real-life version of The Hunger Games.
- Risk-taking—Risk-taking is a way of resisting reality as it is, and imagining a world without consequences. It’s also incredibly short-sighted and selfish. There are consequences for not observing simple things like wearing a mask in public, not gathering in large groups, not observing social distancing. And the consequences disproportionately fall on the most vulnerable members of our society. In your right mind, who wants to be that person?
While these critical skills and insights are based on my experience with the COVID-19 pandemic so far, I believe they are applicable in any crisis.