Business Leadership in a Time of Crisis

In a sense, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is something you, as a business leader, have been preparing for your entire career. You’ve successfully led one or more companies. In some cases, you’ve started from scratch, honing your skills to lead these businesses through times of profit and loss. And through times of challenge and crisis.

But what we face today is qualitatively different from any crisis we’ve known before. And you are responsible for taking your leadership skills and experience to a new level.

As hard as things have been recently, it’s fair to assume conditions will become yet more difficult in the weeks to come. To ensure that you’re providing the type of business leadership your employees, stakeholders, and customers demand, here are tips to help you become even better at what you do today.

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Keep communicating.

Arguably, a leader’s most important role is communicator. In a time of crisis, the goal is communicating in order to boost morale, demonstrate confidence, and inspire others to stay strong.

For business leaders, it’s critical to “reassure all customers, stakeholders and the general public that you are taking appropriate measures to fight the outbreak—and even contributing to a resolution,” notes CNBC.

Reach out to the public-at-large and let them know your company is working hard to protect its employees and to continue serving its customers. Spell out in some detail the measures being taken to ensure continuity, as well as your readiness to pivot as changing circumstances demand.

Communicating a positive message to employees is just as important. In this respect, remember to:

  • Share facts and information about the Coronavirus only from the most trusted sources, i.e., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is not the time to fall back on “preferred” news sources or any media venue with a demonstrable axe to grind.
  • Be honest about the hardships your company faces. Since we’re all in this together, employees will respond more favorably to hard decisions you must make. Communicate with consistency and clarity, and don’t hesitate to repeat a message more than once, in order to get your points across.
  • Offer as much context as possible. When announcing new policies or any type of organizational change, take time to provide some background behind the decision chosen. Employees’ understanding (and necessary support) are deepened when they understand why a particular course of action has been taken. Remember—these are extremely anxious times, and the more context you offer, the more assured employees will be that you are really in charge.
  • Look for opportunities to communicate via video. Your team will respond favorably to seeing the CEO or business owner on a screen, as opposed to simply reading text in an email or blog. But remember, as we’ve noted before, CEO body language is very important. Add gestures while you speak. Smile when appropriate, but refrain from frowning. Maintain steady eye contact with the camera to perpetuate the sense that you are directly addressing your audience. Your body language—“the sum total of your posture, gestures, and facial expressions—conveys an important message” of stability and hope.

In addition to communicating, be sure to practice active listening, be it online or over the phone. This is the time to show empathy for what others are going through, to display patience, understanding, and compassion whenever possible.

Assemble a trusted team.

No business leader can operate alone during a crisis. The Harvard Business Review advises putting together “a small trusted team and giving them enough leeway to make rapid tactical decisions.” HBR adds, “Use the clock speed of external events as a guideline for pacing the internal process, rather than starting with the latter as a given.”

Take time to better understand the optimum work styles of each team member. (Conducting brief one-on-one calls can help in this respect.) Brainstorm different methods for generating deeper motivation and engagement among team members. Whenever possible, delegate authority to the team and take some of the burden off yourself.

Set achievable, short-term goals.

For the time being, accurate long-range planning may have to take a back seat to key, short-term actions. These “less important” goals are still vital, since by setting and achieving them, you and your team feel like you’re still making progress and getting things done.

This effort may require some refinement or relaxation in the “normal” way business is conducted within your organization. Let people know that some flexibility with policies and procedures is acceptable, as long as they remain focused on the task at hand—but also that any major deviation from accepted policies must be cleared by you or someone on your senior leadership team.

Lead with confidence and self-awareness.

In a time of crisis, notes Inc, “You need to be more of what makes you who you are.” The objective is to “see yourself outside of yourself to gain an understanding of how others see and perceive you as a leader.” Strong leaders must be self-aware—of their own strengths and weaknesses, and the effects they have on others.

Take care of yourself.

No leader can guide the way forward if they aren’t taking care of themselves. This means following a sensible diet, getting some exercise (rather than none), and practicing good sleep hygiene. It may not seem that way right now, but at some point, you will have some badly needed downtime. Make the most of this respite from duties and responsibilities. Read a book. Watch an entertaining movie on Netflix. Talk to your kids or grandkids via Zoom.

As of the time this blog post was written, the pandemic appears to be nowhere near under control. This means we all must continue to work together with respect and empathy, as to minimize the levels of hardship that lie ahead. There may not be a better time to explore the benefits and rewards of participating as a member of Catapult Groups. To learn more, check out the benefits of membership here.

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