By Darin Crouch

As time passes by and the coronavirus crisis continues to be part of our everyday lives, the job we have as business leaders is changing. As Chris Nichols, Shoma Chatterjee Hayden and Chris Tendler put it in their April 2, 2020 Harvard Business Review article “4 Behaviors That Help Leaders Manage A Crisis”, many leaders must now make rapid decisions about controlling costs and maintaining liquidity. At the same time, business leaders must deal with health, mental and safety concerns of their team members, whilst business leaders must deal with their own personal concerns and those of their families. If there is ever been a test of leadership, then that is right now.

Nichols Hayden and Tendler identified four behaviors that business leaders must make their own and convey these to their teams. They must (i) decide with speed over precision, (ii) adapt boldly, (iii) reliably deliver and (iv) engage for impact. Business leaders must define priorities and make smart trade-offs. This is also the time that you must empower your team and communicating with your team becomes even more important.

Rebecca Knight sums it up very well in her April 20, 2020 Harvard Business Review article “How to Talk to Your Team When the Future Is Uncertain” as it relates to communication. She states:

The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in modern history. And yet, according to Paul Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, the experience of managing through it is not necessarily unique. Similar to other crises, such as 9/11 and the global financial downturn, workers feel scared and worried. “Uncertainty triggers fear,” he says. “People are freaking out and wondering, ‘What does this mean for my company, my job, and my future?’” Your role as a manager is to “project confidence and strength.” Even though the situation is fast-moving and you don’t have perfect information, you need to be honest about what you know, says Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School. “Task one is transparency,” she says. Explain to your team, “here’s what we do know, here’s what we don’t know, and this is what we are doing to close that gap.” Your second task is to “articulate a sense of possibility and hope.” Accomplishing both of these tasks, however, is no easy feat. “

You need to remember the norm of our comfortable lives is no longer an option. The world has changed and bold decisions are now the new norm. The latter also means that whatever action you take make it count and do it right.

No matter how bad things get, you need to be there for your team. You need to understand what each team member is going through individually as well. So although we are in a crisis, maintain the human aspect of your leadership and have the occasional one-on-one conversation with each member of your team (remember though, practice social distancing).

As part of engaging for impact, Nichols Hayden and Tendler recommend that you explore how you can truly help your customers. Can you offer payment terms in order to ease their liquidity crunch or can you offer pro bono work?

In all of this chaos, there needs to be a distinction between leading and managing in this time of crisis. As Erick J. McNutty and Leonard Marcus wrote in their March 25, 2020 Harvard Business Review Article “Are You Leading Through the Crisis … or Managing the Response?”, managing is about addressing urgent needs of the present, whilst leading involves guiding people to the best possible outcome during these unprecedented times. McNutty and Marcus recommend for leaders in this time to take a broad, holistic view of both challenges and opportunities. By doing this, the management efforts will then be well directed.

The previously mentioned rapid decisions are essential, but these decisions must be taken by embracing the long-term approach. This approach is necessary, as mentally you must tell yourself that your company will survive. Companies are only going to survive if a long-term approach is embraced. Moreover, to be able to survive, and as mentioned previously, you must adapt boldly and any decision you make must count.

For some leaders it will be difficult to embrace the long-term approach. In his April 7, 2020 Inc. Magazine article “When Anxiety Prevents You From Leading Your Team During a Pandemic”, David Finkel gives recommendations for a business leader to overcome anxiety and fear to help lead the team into the next phase. One of these recommendations that really stands out is to think about the worst-case scenario, then stop thinking about it. As Finkel puts it:

Now many of us have spent the past few weeks going over different scenarios in our heads. The what-ifs can be crippling if left unchecked. So, I suggest addressing the elephant in the room and tackling it head on

As Finkel states, as business leaders, we must realize by now that when restrictions are lifted, business will not be as usual. But as business leaders, you need to have the drive to service your market and customers, and if you keep your anxiety in check, you will find a way to continue to service your clients after Covid-19. 

Ultimately, the way you handle this crisis will say a lot about yourself, not only as a leader but also as a person.

Image: Unsplash/Andreas Klassen