6 Leadership Tips for the COVID-19 Crisis

By: David Grossman, APR, Fellow PRSA
May. 1, 2020
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My husband Steve has often said to me, “As long as we have our health, we’re OK. As long as we have each other and our girls, we’re OK. And as long as we have jobs we’re passionate about, we’re OK.”

Now, enter COVID-19. Amid the uncertainty the pandemic has caused in recent months, much of what used to give us comfort and help us operate on solid ground has gone up for grabs.

As leaders during this crisis, how can we rise to the occasion and lift our people up, instead of sinking them further into uncertainty and despair? Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Lead yourself first.

Before we can lead others, we must first lead ourselves. As in airplane emergencies, we need to put on our own oxygen masks first, so we can then help others. As leaders during the COVID-19 crisis, we need to keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy, to get enough sleep and do things that bring us positive energy. Taking care of ourselves will put us in the best position to lead others.

2. Help people sort through their emotions.

During times of crisis, empathy can go a long way. We’ve seen a lot of people understandably react very emotionally through these uncertain times. The pictures we’ve seen of empty store aisles void of toilet paper and paper towels speak to a desire to focus on what we can control. 

How might you as a leader help others sort through their feelings and “own” them?  Empathy is about reflecting genuinely on what others are feeling, and therefore help them process their emotions: “That sure sounds like a difficult situation.” “Times like this can sure feel scary.”

When you help others own their feelings — even the difficult ones — you help them reduce the likelihood that those feelings will control them. What’s more, managing their emotions first will help the rational part of their brains kick in. Logic leads to calmness and a steadier hand at the wheel.

3. Set a new communications schedule.

With nearly everyone working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak, we must continue to establish new rhythms for how we stay in touch with our employees, bosses and other stakeholders. We need to communicate with one another more often than we did before, and with greater regularity. What’s your plan for every day to stay connected with key stakeholders like employees and customers?

4. Share your own motivations.

During this unprecedented health crisis, people are watching what their leaders do (even virtually), not just what they say. They’re deriving meaning from their leaders’ actions, based on their own perspectives. To avoid misunderstandings, leaders should share their motivations and the benefits they intend to provide. That way, others will be less likely to misread a leader’s actions. We might say, “I’m sharing what I know because I think it will help you,” or, “I’m sharing these facts so everyone will understand the difficult situation our colleagues at the plant are facing during this crisis.”

5. Share what you know, when you know it.

During uncertain times employees want to know what their leaders know, when they know it. They understand that we might not have all the answers at any given moment. But they expect to be kept in the loop on what we do know — and equally important, on what we don’t know. When we don’t know something we should say so, and then try to find the answer.

6. Share information that people can use.

As we share what we know, when we know it, we also have to think about what people can hear and digest, and whether the information is useful to them. Being authentic doesn’t necessarily mean saying everything that comes to mind. 

For example, it might be accurate to say we’re afraid, but employees can’t do anything productive with that information, which will only exacerbate their own fear. Instead, leaders can reassure employees by acknowledging their collective reality — that it’s natural to have a myriad of feelings during uncertain times, but we should focus on what we can control so the team can weather the storm together. 

The uncertainty we face during the coronavirus crisis can seem overwhelming. But when we’re unsure what to do next, we might take a cue from a song in the movie “Frozen II,” and do “The Next Right Thing.” And then the next. And then the next — with calmness and courage, one step at a time. Before we know it, we will figure this thing out.

photo credit: moment