A crisis is an essential part of being a leader. It’s easy to be a great manager when things are going well. But, when things get terrible, your leadership abilities will be tested.
Although crisis management is often a top priority for managers, it can be one of the most challenging areas. It’s no surprise that companies can spend anywhere from $60,000 to $500,000 on crisis planning, depending on their industry and location. Unprepared companies can lose hundreds of millions of shareholder value and reputation while spending millions on mitigation.
Crisis management is complex because it can be so unpredictable. It is impossible to predict when and what type of crisis may strike. Take the Covid-19 pandemic. We would have released the statement as a massive hoax if someone had said in 2019 that the world would go into lockdown for two years with a shift to remote areas.
A Spiceworks survey revealed that 95% of organizations have a disaster recovery plan but that only 23% of the test the plan’s effectiveness. 61% of those who fail to test their strategies say they don’t have enough time. 53% claim it’s because of insufficient resources.
Leaders aren’t only unprepared for crises, but also uncertain about managing their staff in high-risk situations.
How do you become a crisis leader?
A leader can play different roles depending on the stage of a crisis. In the initial stages of a crisis, where its nature is unclear, a leader will need to solve problems and offer different solutions. You will need to change gears in the latter stages when it becomes clearer what the facts and figures are.
How can you lead your team to resolve a crisis without making them hate you? Here are some tips to help you be a better leader during an emergency.
1. Recognize the problem
Sometimes leaders refuse to admit that they are in crisis. They fail to inform their staff of the reality. As a result, they become ineffective crisis leaders. Don’t try to sweep the problem under your carpet. Your employees should be informed as well.
A survey of non-desk employees at large companies found that 84% don’t receive enough information from their top managers, while 75% claim that their employers don’t keep them informed about changes in policy and goals. Nearly the same percentage (74%) stated that “consistent” messages are important to them from senior management, despite being few and far between.
Respect your employees and transparently share the truth. Transparency doesn’t have to mean negativity. Do not obsess over the negative news. Encourage your team to see the great picture and not just the immediate. Talk to your team about the next steps and the risks associated with the plan. If possible, discuss what you can do immediately to address the problem.
2. Encourage self-leadership among your people
Your employees might feel confused when faced with a crisis. They are expected to follow your instructions. While it may seem ideal to have people do what you want in normal circumstances, passive employees often suffer the most when times are tough. They expect their leader to do all the thinking. As a result they can be a liability and not an asset.
The most important thing to do when managing a crisis is to lead decisively. To act decisively in a situation you need to establish a team of decision-makers who can help you speed-track, implement, and communicate the plan to other internal teams.
As a leader and organization, it is important to make your employees organizational champions. Your employees should be given a purpose, a role and a sense that they are responsible for their actions. Keep these things in view when you are faced with a crisis.
- A vision can help your team stay focused and grounded.
- Employees who hold specialized roles are more autonomous and can contribute ideas and solutions to the company.
- A sense of ownership can instill pride in one’s work and help employees stay motivated through the various stages of crisis.
These decision-makers should be empowered to take initiative when possible and set clear boundaries about what needs to escalate, when and to whom. It is better to take decisions from the bottom up than from the top down.
3. Reduce red tape and friction points
A crisis is too short for lengthy deliberations. Limiting friction points should be a top priority for leaders during crises. Any obstacle to quick decision-making, from an inefficient hierarchy in approval to a lack of emergency funds, is considered a friction point.
To build on the previous point about encouraging self-leadership, leaders can reduce bureaucracy by selecting a small number of team leaders to speed up decision-making. You don’t have the luxury to second-guess when leading, so it comes down to how you manage a crisis.
- You are creating a clear priority list. Your employees shouldn’t waste their time or energy on the wrong things. Document your priorities in crisis. Get your team on the same page. Leave enough room for any adjustments to the plan.
- Allow your frontline decision-makers complete autonomy. You may make mistakes, but this is part of the process.
- Make the most of the decisions with the lowest impact, especially when under pressure. It’s best to start with decisions that have little impact and then move on to more impactful ones. This will ensure that employees understand the stakes and instill confidence in them.
4. Keep your empathy intact!
Your employees are more critical than ever. In times of crisis, taking care of your employees is crucial.
Leadership in crisis requires empathy for the people affected and the ability to find the root cause of the problem by asking the right questions at the correct times. A heart can be described as telling your employees, “I care about your satisfaction and well-being,” but also ensuring they don’t view it as a weakness.
Employees will be more loyal to their companies if treated as more than a cog in the machinery. Empathy allows you to listen to your team’s needs with compassion, not mistrust. It is about finding the right balance between heart, reality, and kindness.
The real challenge lies in being empathetic and ensuring team goals are met. These tips will help you balance your managerial and compassionate sides.
- Create a culture of recognition. Even small gestures of appreciation can significantly impact employees’ morale. Even a small gesture of appreciation can give employees that extra boost, especially in times of crisis.
- Have weekly informal check-ins. Make sure you have at least five minutes weekly of one-on-1 time with your employees. Invite employees to share their week’s highlights and challenges in these informal meetings. You should ensure that the discussions include both personal and professional details of employees’ lives to get a full picture of their mental health. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and mental health plans are essential to help employees who might need them.
- Set realistic goals and establish productivity standards. Dealing in a crisis can affect not only your well-being but also your employees’ well-being. In such situations, it’s not uncommon to experience burnout, stress, or anxiety. It is your control as a leader to devolop an environment where employees don’t feel overwhelmed and can accomplish anything. To help your team identify achievable goals, you can begin by setting goals using the SMART goals framework.
5. A robust and adaptable communication strategy is essential
An organization’s full-fledged response to a crisis will require significant support from many internal teams. Therefore, any plan you implement will be comprehensive, multilayered, and integrated throughout the organization.
To make such a comprehensive plan work, you must ensure that your teams know what, when, and how they will be performing their parts. This is possible only if you have a solid communication strategy for dealing with high-risk situations.
This is where an adaptive communication toolbox, which can help leaders cut through the noise of crisis communications and allow the team to work together effectively in all phases of it, is a great idea. It is vital to have a clear communication strategy. This training can also help you and your team. This tip may seem obvious, but anyone who has ever been through an organizational crisis knows how different communication can be from project launches.
Developing valuable skills now will help you prepare for future crises
Leadership qualities in situations are different from those required for normal circumstances. While we cannot control all of our cases, we can control how and when we respond to them.
When discussing crisis management, terms such as “adaptive,” “agile,” or “decisive” are often used. It is almost impossible to emerge unscathed in a crisis if you as a leader are not willing to make changes in your communication, work, and leadership styles.