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Leading Through a Pandemic

Effective Crisis Leadership: Guiding Your Organization Through a Pandemic

by Dustin Abad on and last update on May 25, 2020

While crises and emergencies of all sorts can happen, the magnitude of COVID-19 consequences is unlike anything we’ve seen before. To remain operational and keep employees safe during a crisis, leaders should practice decisive and calm leadership. Here is useful crisis leadership advice that helps companies overcome difficulties during uncertain times.

1. Stabilize Operations

The first thing leaders should do when a crisis erupts is to stabilize operations.

A quick assessment of issues that disrupt operations is essential to start developing new procedures and solutions that can facilitate the execution of core operations in the new environment.

Remember that even with a comprehensive business continuity plan, the degree of impact could surpass the estimations and safety procedures laid out in the BCP.

For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses around the globe needed to amend and adopt their work-from-home (WFH) policies to reflect travel restrictions, self-quarantine, and social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of the virus. 

It’s therefore important to build and deploy WFH policies that factor in different employee types and roles, processes, and technologies.

Similarly to the adoption of a long-term WFH policy, companies should seek out new ways of conducting company operations. Revise the overall strategy and consider moving processes to an electronic format to adapt to the new situation and environment.

For example, leaders may opt for secure virtual communication and collaboration tools for board meetings or annual shareholder meetings. Being able to make critical decisions swiftly and conveniently ensures the company moves in the right direction

2. Decentralize Control

During times of crisis, leaders cannot take upon themselves to control and oversee everything. It’s thus important to build a network of teams with specific roles and responsibilities. While teams perform their tasks, leaders make sure all actions tie in with the business strategy and direction.

It’s critical to recognize that local teams and leaders have better insight into the severity of a situation as well as the reality in which they operate. As a result, they can make decisions that more accurately reflect the situation they are facing along with its immediate consequences.

By instilling ownership in employees, you incentivize them to be more engaged and achieve better results, which is invaluable during crises.

3. Structure Communication

Communication should be structured and regular during a crisis to ensure calm and a sense of stability regardless of looming chaos.

In exercising effective crisis leadership, leaders must maintain calm and structure in their communication with staff and the public. Even if the outcome of a situation is uncertain, it is perfectly fine not to know the answer than to promise something that later doesn’t happen. Honesty is key to good leadership and an essential step to building lasting trust.

A high-functioning crisis team and crisis response depend on collaboration and effective communication. There should be a single and secure communication and collaboration tool used during crises to facilitate information sharing.

It’s also important to frequently test crisis communication to check information flow and communication dynamic. Address any issues and eliminate them so that they don’t occur in the future.

4. Boost Collaboration

Effective team collaboration is the foundation of a well-functioning company during a crisis. Information should flow smoothly across the whole chain of command so that senior leaders can make strategic decisions based on the information collected from the front lines of the crisis.

A good communication network is the first step to gleaning valuable insight from every department. Organizing operating procedures based on departmental input, which more accurately reflects the complete company environment during a crisis, leads to better decision-making.

When embracing the spirit of collaboration and decentralized command, local teams attend to their responsibilities while leaders maintain a broader perspective, ensuring these responsibilities align with the overall strategic vision.

5. Maintain Relationship Balance

Good leadership during emergencies calls for maintaining a fine balance between pursuing business goals and ensuring the well-being of employees

When putting equal emphasis on employee concerns and economic objectives, leaders instill loyalty among the workforce, which is critical to protecting company reputation. Treating employees as a crucial company asset also helps maintain stability during a time of crisis. 

6. Recognize Growth Opportunity

While it’s difficult to direct focus on activities unrelated to maintaining core operations, recognizing growth opportunities in staff helps build more resilient teams.

Leaders should empower teams and staff during crises. When appropriate, let staff take more responsibility. Crises are a perfect opportunity to spot skilled talent whose input might be a valuable addition.

Also, leader support and guidance should be essential elements of everyday strategy. Employees are more likely to overcome challenges effectively when they are supported by leaders.

Key Takeaways

  • Stabilize operations and reorganize strategy whenever necessary
  • Find new ways how to best serve customers
  • Decentralize control to gain insight
  • Organize and structure communication
  • Collaborate across departments to make better decisions
  • Maintain relationship balance between business goals and employee concerns
  • Support the employees and empower them
  • Protect the employees and customers
  • Develop leadership communication based on trust and honesty

For more resources on crisis leadership and management, check out our COVID-19 Resource Center.

Governance and Leadership
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