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How to Practice Strong Crisis Leadership During COVID-19

Strong leadership during COVID-19 crisis

For the last few weeks of our COVID-19 Business Strategy Open Forum, we’ve talked about different ways to help bring your company through to the other side of this crisis, whether by pivoting your model or reevaluating your financials. 

This week, we were joined by Matt Mueleners and Anna Oakes, who guided us in a discussion on how to practice strong crisis leadership during this time. We’re all in this together, so it was interesting to hear what other leaders in different industries are doing to navigate the situation. 

No leader could say he or she was prepared for this scenario. So how do you lead your business to survive this, if not actually come out ahead?

Here are some of the takeaways from our discussion with Matt and Anna. 


Leadership requires self-awareness

Before you can effectively lead others and steer your business towards success, you need to be aware of where you are, right now. When stress is monopolizing your feelings—stress about your business, your team, your clients, your family—you lose sight of the big picture and become unable to make informed decisions. If you don’t know your own status, it’s hard to lead your team.  

You also need to know your role as a leader. Where do you fit within the ecosystem of your company? If you’re the leader of a department overseeing a team, own that. If you’re a parent leading your household, own that. 

Engagement is key, especially when we’re unable to have face-to-face interactions. Engaging others—especially your staff—helps build trust and increase performance. Humans want to perform well for the people they’ve built trust with. You can keep your team engaged and high performing simply by being your honest self—especially during a crisis. 

Leadership doesn’t just mean being the CEO of a company—although the people in senior roles have a lot on their plate during this crisis. Everyone is a potential leader and serves a critical role in their organization. Claiming that role is really important right now. 


Open communication is key

One point that especially stood out to me from the forum was the importance of having open communication. Like most companies, Accelity has transitioned from being in the office to be fully remote. I’m used to talking to teammates and clients all day, and as an extrovert it’s been a big adjustment. 

Matt and Anna reiterated that communication is key right now. It helps to know where everyone stands within the business and what they’re doing. When working remotely, it’s all too easy to let tasks go by the wayside. It’s even easier to avoid having the hard conversations that are so crucial to moving the business forward. 

Everyone is learning how to communicate in our new situation, so you need to be meta and communicate about communication. Ask your peers or staff how much communication they prefer during the day. Ask whether daily standups are working, or whether some team members need more one-on-one time. Ask whether email or phone calls are better. When in doubt, overcommunicate, and don’t be afraid to ask. 

Here are some questions Anna suggested to help you engage with your team and open the lines of communication:

  1. What do you think you’re normally good at?
  2. What do you think you’re going to be especially effective at right now?
  3. What should we be avoiding for you? Can we delegate anything to someone else?
  4. What potential triggers do you have on the team?

Our guests shared that the only correct solution right now is to communicate. It’s that simple. 

Anna also shared a resource designed to help you and your team, Anxiety at Work: A Guide for COVID-19 and Beyond.


Aim for sincerity and transparency

What many leaders struggle with is striking a balance between being genuine and transparent without oversharing about everything. Don’t feel that you need to be fake; being honest with yourself and others will naturally come off as genuine. 

It’s okay to be emotional and to be vulnerable when communicating. We’re all experiencing a lot of worries, so there’s no need to sugarcoat. In fact, doing so may have the opposite result: it could make you seem disingenuous or out of touch. Again, stick to being open and transparent in your interactions.


Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, especially now. If you could use a little extra help from a leadership perspective, consider consulting a leadership coach or reaching out to peers at other organizations. Your fellow leaders are experiencing many of the same challenges. That’s why we’re hosting the COVID-19 Business Strategy Open Forum so that we can learn from each other. 

A special thank you to all the business leaders working hard to protect their teams during this time! I’m looking forward to when we can return to focusing on growing our businesses, together. 

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