May 6, 2020
Yes, another blog on leading in a crisis. If you are at all like me, you have read or watched countless articles or webinars on leading in a crisis over the past 8 weeks. Believe me, it is not because we do not know how to lead in crisis. If you have been leading anything at all during the past two decades, then you have lead through various types of crisis.
9 out of 10 times a crisis leads to disruption, and the past two decades have been filled with them. Events like September 11, 2001 (easily the greatest disruptive event this nation faced since Pearl Harbor), the global disruption brought on by the Arab Spring, the political disruption caused by the election of the first African American president, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency (a complete non-politician and entrepreneur), Brexit, the global economic disruption of the market crash of 2008-2009, or the economic disruption created by Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are just a few of the major changes our culture and economy has experienced these past 20 years.
Yes, we have lead through crisis, and we have lead through disruption. Yet. today we are still absorbing everything we can on leading in a crisis. I believe it is because we are not only looking for what to do but how to do it. My friend and mentor, Frances Hesselbein, says, “Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do.” Let us use this time to assess not only what it takes to lead in a crisis but how to lead well in a crisis. As Winston Churchill said, “never waste a good crisis”. Make a mental note: I have retitled this blog “Leading Well in a Crisis.” Here are three ways we can do just that:
Lead with empathy.
I really hope we have come to acknowledge leading with empathy does not make us wimpy leaders who wear our hearts on our sleeves—who are all about heart at the expensive of results. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 75 percent of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including inability to handle interpersonal problems, unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict, or inability to adapt to change or elicit trust. When we are in a time of difficulty, we need empathetic leadership more than ever. Leadership is about leading people from one place to another; it is about PEOPLE. Empathy says I understand how you feel, and how you feel matters. Now, more than ever people need to know we care about their well-being and not only if they can get a job done. “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Lead with integrity.
C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing what is right even when no one is watching.” Integrity is not only how I lead others; it is how I lead myself. With a significant part of the workforce shifted to working remotely, leading with integrity has become even more critical. Integrity is the only way our teams and organizations can trust that [my] being remote doesn’t mean I’m on vacation. It means my location has changed not my focus, effort, and productivity. To accept compensation for doing a job knowing we are not delivering is not a reflection of failing to work hard; it is an issue of integrity. Remember, crisis does not automatically create character; crisis reveals character.
Lead with hope.
When I think of the importance of hope, I think of Admirable Jim Stockdale and the Stockdale Paradox. Admiral Stockdale survived several years as a prisoner of war and led others to survive as well. He said the key to surviving was not “optimism” but having an unwavering “faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—while exercising the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” We are leading people during a time of uncertainty. Many of us are faced with the harsh reality of not knowing if our business, ministry, or nonprofit will survive the economic crisis created by the Covid -19 pandemic. As leaders, we must confront these brutal facts while maintaining faith and hope that we will ultimately prevail. We must maintain hope for ourselves first, and then we must become agents of hope. Remembering faith and hope does not deny the existence of difficulty; faith and hope denies the difficulty a place of influence in our heart and mind.