Leadership During Crises

Newsom. Cuomo. Trump. Each has responded to the COVID-19 crisis with a different tact. Newsom transparently relays realtime data to Californians. Cuomo has embraced the structured slide presentation sprinkled with anecdotes about his family. And Trump, well, apparently he wants to disinfect your innards

Leadership in crisis is more art than science. We all know good leadership is sorely needed in a time of crisis, but few can point to a playbook because, by definition, an unprecedented moment lacks precedent. Still, there are some immutable principles that would well serve the leader in all of us in a time of crisis.

Connection is paramount in this moment given the various shelter-at-home mandates (or guidance, depending on your views). As of late April 2020, good chances are that your local traffic is sparse and parking plentiful. And if you’re like me, you’ve seen the same four faces — no more, no less — everyday for the past month. Whatever broader community we previously belonged to isn’t as visible, hence, rise of the zoom happy hour and virtual dance party. And thank goodness for these outlets because they allow us to remain connected in this weird time. Leaders can use these outlets to help their organizations feel a strong, empathic connection to one another despite being physically distanced.

Leaders should also relay timely information to their organizations. Whether good news or bad news, there ought to be healthy information flow from leadership to the rest of the team. This serves two purposes. First, it helps sustain an organization’s mission alignment, whatever that may be. If your organization’s mission is to spread love and joy, then your organization needs to hear that message reinforced in the midst of a decidedly joyless situation. Second, sustained information flow helps organizations stay motivated in uncertain times when individual team members are all experiencing personal interruptions.

Next, leaders must provide direction in a crisis. Where do we go from here? When will this end and will my job survive this all? Because it’s not enough to know that you remain connected to a broader team and mission. A leader should lay out a vision for what follows, good or bad. Be a rudder. Now, it is all too tempting to forgo this piece for fear of being wrong. Call me crazy but I believe organizations are far more forgiving of a course-correction so long as the leader is forthright about their operating assumptions. This brings us to a final and perhaps most important principle…

Leaders must embody honesty. Because the only thing worse than a crisis itself, contrary to some belief, is a lie about the cure.