Leadership is always important, but in the middle of a crisis, let alone a pandemic, the leader has the most critical role in the organization. Get it right, you will not only survive the crisis, but you will also thrive. Get it wrong, your company and your team will struggle.

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In the face of the crisis, how you lead, what you focus on, how you choose to spend your time are the vital decisions you have to make every single day. Does leading in a crisis beg a different type of leadership?

PeaceTime Vs. WarTime Leader

A few years back, there was a great article in Harvard Business Review about the difference between a peacetime leader and a wartime leader. The article stated that:

In peacetime, companies have a significant advantage vs. the competition in the core market and market expansion. In times of peace, the leader and the company can focus on market growth and reinforcing the company’s strengths.

In wartime, a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources, including competition, dramatic macro-economic change, market change, supply chain change, war, and disease.

In peacetime, leaders must maximize and broaden the current opportunity. As a result, peacetime leaders employ techniques to encourage broad-based creativity and contribution across a diverse set of possible objectives. In wartime, by contrast, the company typically has a single bullet in the chamber and must, at all costs, hit the target. The company’s survival in wartime depends upon strict adherence and alignment to the mission.

Can you be both wartime and peacetime leader? What skills do you need to develop for each style of leadership? I believe the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second lies in a series of blogs we are creating to cover all of those skills and more.

Let’s begin with times of crisis the seven most essential things your team needs from you RIGHT now:

1. Direction:

Your workforce needs to understand what to do, why it matters, and how to do it. They need leadership, a strategy, and a plan. Your employees need to know how you are approaching this crisis. They want to know what you want them to focus on, and what you need from them.

2. Empathy:

Your employees need to understand that you are aware of and care about what they are going through.  The fear they feel, the challenges of working from home, the impact of this virus on their personal lives. They have spouses who have been laid off, family members who are sick, their fear over how to pay their bills, and their struggle to home school their children. In another article by Harvard Business Review, they have found that leaders’ ability to be empathetic had a direct impact to the organization’s ability to “maintain high performance” during difficult times.

3. Communication:

Make sure there are open lines of communication from you, the direct supervisor, their teammates, and customers. Your team members are to be kept abreast of goals, changes, and any updates that are even remotely important. Communication needs to be both ways. Team members want to be heard, listened to, and can answer questions.

4. Transparency:

You as the leader, need to be open and honest. Your employees trust that you are sharing everything you know. No news is far worse than bad news. Be ready to share it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Putting it out there in the open builds trust, a critical quality right now.

5. Connection:

Help your remote workers feel connected. Isolation, loneliness, overwhelm, these are all huge challenges right now. Your team needs you to provide ways to keep them connected to your company, their peers, and reality.

6. Big Picture Understanding:

All of your key team members need to know what is happening beyond their role and department. They have running concerns. What is the company experiencing? How are you handling customer challenges and corporate issues? Are we staying the course or changing direction?  Will the business close down departments or put more resources towards another? Share information that helps them see the big picture.

7. A Path Forward:

Help everyone understand that you have one – a path forward. What their role is in that path, and what the exact steps they need to take to help you get there. A path forward is about giving your team hope, providing them with a way to see life after this crisis, and motivating them by giving them a role in that process.

Whether you see yourself as a wartime leader or a peacetime leader, I think we all have to agree that leadership now is different. We are leading people through more than their position; right now, we are leading them through one of the biggest challenges of their lives.

We are asking people to give more, do more, and engage more. Wouldn’t it make sense that we ask that of ourselves, as leaders, first? Focus on ensuring you are investing in your team before you ask them to invest in you or your company. That’s how you lead through a crisis.

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