Leadership - 03.24.2020

You Can Perform Effective Crisis Management Remotely

Challenging times call for strategy, communication, and leading from the front.

Tony Hunter Author: Tony Hunter

Leadership. It wasn’t easy to begin with, and COVID-19 hasn’t made it any easier.

As business leaders across all industries and sectors take their workforces remote, leaders must manage through a global crisis and adapt to the challenges presented by working from home.

I consistently emphasize the importance of leading from the front. The current situation makes this trickier. How do you lead from the front… from afar?

There are four key strategies you should emphasize to lead from the front as you navigate during these challenging circumstances.

1. Set Expectations.

This is first and foremost your top priority as a leader. Everyone from upper management to recent hires should have clear expectations and priorities, especially if these differ from what you would expect under “normal circumstances.”

Does your work require employees to be available online from 9am to 5pm? Or, are you operating on a “get your work done when you can, and meet all deadlines” approach?

Don’t assume that your employees know. They are seeking clarity; provide it for them. As a business leader, that’s your responsibility. Implement a “first things first” mantra. Whether that be customers, revenue, costs and/or employees, make sure everyone knows what’s on the top of the priorities list.

In times of uncertainty, make sure you clarify, and simplify expectations.

2. Deliver Bad News Fast.

Remote work creates a different dynamic between employees and leadership. And with a 24-hour news cycle constantly populated with worsening news, communication can help to dispel false narratives and gossip amongst employees.

There’s too much at risk right now — individuals’ health, your business’s supply chain, and the economy to name a few — to delay communication on any new developments. So, establish the “bad news fast” mantra. 

Share updates with your team on an ongoing basis, and ask for the same in return. Being outside the office can create a different dynamic and cadence with respect to communication…absent an intervention. Amplify the need for real time communication of any issues or problems because early warning signals can lead to solutions, and avoid larger issues.

Remember, don’t shoot the messenger, if you want to be agile, inclusive and effective.

3. Act Like a Duck.

I’ve shared this metaphor in a separate article [LINK], and it holds more true than ever for remote leadership in challenging times. Under the water, ducks are paddling madly to stay afloat. Yet on the surface, they are calm and confident.

So, act like a duck. Manage crises under the water, but for your employees, maintain a calm, confident, and courageous mindset.

Do not add to your employees stress. In fact, try as hard as you can to mitigate stress. Which leads us to number four…

4. Demonstrate Empathy, and Offer Support.

The circumstances we’re dealing with are hard on everyone. Therefore, as the leader it’s critical to demonstrate in words, and actions, that you are aware of the need for support and empathy.

Your employees will expect frequent communication and updates from the leadership team. Don’t be what I like to call a “bungee jumping” leader — popping in and out as you please. More than ever, make it clear to your workforce that you are accessible and engaged.

Increase the frequency of your dialogue with employees, but reduce the length of that dialogue. Be clear, concise and precise in all communications. Flexing your style will go a long way toward letting your team know you support them.

Remember, just like you, many employees have families and loved ones to care for. And some have underlying conditions that make the risk of catching the coronavirus even higher. Many are concerned about paid sick leave, regular working hours and more. Acknowledge these concerns, and work with your employees to see how you can provide support.

It’s also important to show empathy. Because of the distress and disruption to our daily routines and the stress surrounding the coronavirus, leaders should remind their employees to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. Finding this alignment is key, especially during challenging times. Share your concerns and how you’re trying to cope. Trust me from experience here — communicating these empathetic reminders will have a tremendous impact on your team. 

Now, more than ever, we all need leadership. I have been blown away by the stories I’ve seen of business leaders leading from the front. The actions leaders are taking to address employees, customers and community are refreshing. 

Like most leadership lessons, these plans and ideas aren’t earth shattering. Failure lies in the execution of your plans, not in the plans themselves. So, execute these ideas and plans with rigor, consistency and discipline.

Lead from the front. Your employees are counting on you!