I've been reading a ton of theoretical articles on crisis management these days as we get deeper into this unprescedented COVID-19 situation. Theory is fantastic in peaceful moments, but in chaotic moments like these, practical solutions tend to work better. In this article I will endeavor to provide some pragmatic things you can start doing now to begin to regain a semblance of control over your business in this critical time. This article is specifically addressed to team leaders but I will also provide some tips for individuals as well.
Under normal circumstances we confront far more worries than areas of true control. If you've read my previous articles you know that I am a huge proponent of Stephen R. Covey's timeless guidance in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that proactivity is the cure to paralyzation in the face of innumerable worries and concerns. But how to remain truly proactive and focused in the eye of the storm is another skill set altogether. So the first thing to do is to acknowledge all the issues pulling focus. I do this by making a list of all current concerns. Usually, this list is compiled by my business leaders and then we review it from top to bottom.
Make a list
The goal of this activity is to understand the pressures your organization is facing and to help prioritize action plans. Try to be as comprehensive as possible. Include worries, fears, and concerns - anything that can pull focus away from taking action for you and your team. Once the list is done, group like themes together to see the trends in the issues. Lastly, go through each theme and identify the degree of actionability as in - areas where taking action on your part can influence or potentially affect the outcome.
Now you have a list of actionable areas you can work to prioritize action and level of effort against. You also have what I call an "empathy list" of all the issues people are worried about. The key as an effective communicator is to acknowledge the concerns but then return everyone's focus to what is ultimately actionable which are the aligned priority themes you've identified. This measure goes a long way to keeping your team moving in the right direction and helps you avoid valuable time loss debating issues that you can't ultimately control.
This is much harder than it seems. Even though you have now aligned a hit list of actions, the situation will remain volatile and unpredictable with each day bringing a new list of concerns and worries. In addition to constantly repeating the list activity you also need to make sure that you as the leader stay on balance. Most of us have another gear we kick into when confronting a crisis. We forego sleep, food, exercise, and most healthy habits in order to dedicate every waking moment to trying to solve the myriad issues we are facing.
One of the areas of control is what you put into your body, the amount of physical activity you are getting, and how much rest you are achieving. A crucial aspect of proactivity is also understanding and reinforcing the importance of providing your body, mind, and spirit, what is necessary to maintain clarity and calm no matter what you confront with each day of the crisis.
Make sure you prioritize balance. Get a minimum of 6 hours of sleep each night. Eat at regular intervals and ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients in. Drink the right amount of water. Take a few minutes at the top of the day to move and get some exercise in. You may not be able to get to the gym because of COVID-19 closures but a little calesthenics goes a long way - some jumping jacks, lunges, squats, jogging in place, pushups, crunches, and planks will get the blood pumping and help reduce your anxiety levels.
Practice Intentional Positivity
It's natural to drift toward pessimism during a crisis. Things don't move fast enough. Everyone is wrapped up in their own adjustments to the volatility. Sense of urgency may not be fully aligned. And news gets worse with each passing day.
A leader's role is to accept and acknowledge the brutal facts of the situation but then create the feelings of compassion, stability, trust, and hope that people need to positively move forward. We've already discussed the need for empathy and acknowledgement of how your people are managing their stress and worries - this compassionate approach humanizes your leadership approach and lets people know you understand their challenges and are meeting them where they are. Stability comes with routine - setting up regular touch points and providing regular communications throughout the crisis goes a long way toward keeping people focused. It is tempting as a leader to absorb a lions share of the decision-making responsibility during hard times. But it is exactly this type of attitude that burns you out and doesn't empower others to fully perform their roles.
Trusting the capability of your team during a crisis is an essential step that demonstrates your confidence in your people and divides the workload so each person can maintain their balance throughout the crisis. Hope then comes from proactively showing each silver lining that presents during the length of the situation. Using historical context is a great way to provide hope - demonstrating that this situation will in fact blow over eventually and things will return to some state of normalcy. The fact is that most crisis are never as bad as they seemed during the heat of the moment. Maintaining calm and perspective about the situation helps people manage their worst fears.
By categorizing worries versus controllables, maintaining balance for yourself and your colleagues, and practicing intentional positivity throughout the crisis, you will find that your attitude towards the crisis is assuredly impacted, you have consistent stamina to keep moving forward, and your people remain optimistic and proative despite the external noise.
What other practices would you recommend to others for maintaining control during a crisis? Please comment below and give this article a like/share if you found it useful!