Leadership in times of crisis: How to adapt (and thrive!) in the face of unpredictable adversity.

With the pandemic disrupting the global markets, small-to-big businesses, and every other sector in our lives, navigating the truly unprecedented times we’re in has been a challenge for all of us.

Given the scale of the outbreak and the unpredictability it brings with, COVID-19 has also taken a humanitarian toll on employees.

During routine emergencies, it’s easy to rely on a pre-defined, scripted command-and-control structure to handle operations. However, in crises characterized by uncertainty, leaders everywhere are under pressure to guide their teams through unchartered territory and come out on top. The cardinal rule of crisis management is to exercise as much control as you possibly can over the situation — using every platform or tool available to ensure a positive outcome.

Let’s go over a few other tactics you can employ to promote rapid problem-solving, and timely execution under a high-stress, chaotic circumstances:

Avoid decision paralysis:
During a crisis, interests, and priorities are most likely to clash as you’re expected to process whatever information you’ve at hand—incomplete or not—to make a decision. It’s crucial to make smart trade-offs—for example, choosing between survival today and success tomorrow. Instead of getting bogged down by all the possibilities, the best leaders identify two to three most important priorities. These could include employee safety, operational continuity,  customer care, or even financial liquidity, depending on your industry

Once you’ve outlined your priorities, the next step is to determine the potential conflicts that might arise as a result, and how you can implement course corrections as the events surrounding the crisis unfold. While you’re at it, don’t forget to name your decision-makers to ensure clarity on who owns what in your central command war room. Empower your front liners to take a call when necessary and clearly articulate “what needs to be escalated, by when, and to whom“. 

Embrace action instead of obsessing over the details. You will make mistakes, but research also shows that failing to act can have worse implications.

Communicate with your employees—even if you’ve nothing new to share:
In times of crisis—similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example—taking care of your team should be a high priority. In the wise words of Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Efficient leaders need to find ways to inspire and motivate them by establishing clear communication regarding new goals.

The government initiated quarantine and travel bans have kept most people from reaching out to their regular support systems — friends, family, community groups and even places of worship. As a result, the situation has also taken a toll on your employee’s mental health, as they find ways to grapple with the current reality.

Making small investments in supporting people who work for you can go a long way in boosting their collective morale. For example, block your calendar for a daily “pulse check” with your team and remember to relate on a personal level first, before moving on to work highlights.

In a continue remote scenario, it’s important that your team members regularly hear from their leaders. Frequent chek-ins through emails, messages, or one-on-one video calls can have a reassuring effect.

That’s why we compiled a bunch of template emails you can use to connect with your team during the COVID-19 crisis.

Compassion, during turbulent times, is a great starting point. Collect and amplify positive messages— acts of kindness, individual successes, acts of kindness, and work-related obstacles that your team has overcome in recent times. Celebrate your daily (and often unacknowledged!) heroes.

Lastly, remain attentive to your own well-being, as well. As anxiety, stress, and fatigue build-up, many enterprise leaders will find it difficult to remain levelheaded, process information, and exercise good judgment. It’s okay to take some time for yourself as well.

Adapting to thrive, not just survive:
Many organizations find it hard to operate in and withstand a volatile, chaotic situation like COVID-19.

In his book Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about how companies can from disorder and thrive instead of crumble in the face of adversity. He introduced the concept of “antifragility” that enables ecosystems – in this case, organizations both small and big – to go beyond just resisting the shock of being in the midst of a crisis.

“The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better,” he says.

A lot of C-level executives consider staying on-track and dealing with tasks at hand to be the end-all, be-all. While acclimating to the current climate is essential, this can also be a great opportunity to build your team’s capabilities to act quickly when a problem presents itself.

Organizations face disruption daily. Right from the technology startups eating away the market share to government-imposed sanctions creating operational challenges. The unique perspective about the current COVID situation is that the whole world is going through this together. While your organization is facing uncertain challenges, so are your competitors.

How fast can you adapt to the extended remote working situation? Can you think of alternate ways to get your essential products in the hands of the consumer? Or maybe it’s time to truly leverage digital channels and focus on customer engagement?

When you’ve had the chance to take a step back from adapting to COVID-19, focus on identifying and eliminating the many interdependencies across all verticals in your company. Let today be a lesson in how you should take appropriate measures to create an ‘antifragile’ team that remains largely unaffected by nonlinear disruptions in the future.  After all, the best in the game don’t just play to survive—they play to win. 

There’s no doubt that as a leader, you are dealing with ever-changing priorities with a limited time to react.

Once you’re done putting out the immediate fires and have fine-tuned your operations to sustain a crisis,  think about everyone who struggled or rose to the occasion and why. Consider how your company (and teams!) will function in the post-crisis world. For example, are your key players positioned for success? What would be the ‘new normal’ once we successfully emerge from this? And ultimately, what does tomorrow look like for you, your team members, your stakeholders, and your organization as a whole?