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Leadership in Times of Crisis

During times of crisis such as the one we are currently in, leaders summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

Many of us are faced with supply chain issues, team shortages and operational challenges while navigating health and safety concerns, working remotely and supporting our families through the pandemic. There is not an easy transition from pre-pandemic activities of fostering innovation and driving revenue and profitability, to crisis management.

The qualities most in demand during crises are rapid decision making, adaptation, reliability and engagement.

Leaders are forced to make quick decisions based upon limited data. Unless you were around in 1918, you probably have no experience running a business during a pandemic. We are all going back to basics: who has been impacted? how can we survive? The best leaders quickly process available information, rapidly determine what matters most, and make decisions with conviction. During a crisis, cognitive overload looms; information is incomplete, interests and priorities may clash, and emotions and anxieties run high. Analysis paralysis can easily result, exacerbated by the natural tendency of matrixed organizations to build consensus. Leaders must break through the inertia to keep the organization trained on business continuity today while increasing the odds of mid- to long-term success by focusing on the few things that matter most. A simple, scalable framework for rapid decision-making is critical.

We then take a hard look at reality and make the most of it. Adapt. Pivot. Strong leaders get ahead of changing circumstances. They seek input and information from diverse sources, are not afraid to admit what they don’t know, and bring in outside expertise when needed. They decide what NOT to do and modify yesterday's playbook.

The third trait is to reliably deliver on promises despite the extraordinary stress we are all experiencing. The best leaders take personal ownership in a crisis, even though many challenges and factors lie outside their control. They align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance, and create a culture of accountability.

The fourth leadership behavior is to engage collaboratively to produce results. In times of crisis, no job is more important than taking care of your team. Effective leaders are understanding of their team’s circumstances and distractions, but they find ways to engage and motivate, clearly and thoroughly communicating important new goals and information. This point deserves extra attention, because although the COVID-19 pandemic is, of course, a health crisis, it has sparked a financial crisis as well. Your leaders need to reiterate new priorities frequently to ensure continued alignment in this time of constant and stressful change.

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