The coronavirus pandemic that is currently gripping the globe is unlike any other crisis that we have seen. It will directly impact the lives of those who are exposed and their families. It will indirectly change the lives of everyone else as events are canceled, schools and businesses close, and everyone is responsible for social distancing.
Although it won't be very easy amid concerns for the wellbeing of yourself and your loved ones, how you handle this situation is of profound significance to your employees and other business associates who count on your leadership.
While this crisis is utterly unique, the principles of leadership during times of uncertainty apply, nonetheless. Below are some ways you can be a source of reassurance and support for your team.
During any time of uncertainty, open and frequent communication with employees, customers, and other stakeholders is essential. It is vital that everyone in leadership is sharing the same information, or people will start to question the reliability of what they are being told. Be sure to be clear to point out the difference when you are sharing facts or opinions and speculation.
If your team has suddenly transitioned to remote work, communication is especially important. People are used to getting information from co-workers or around the water cooler. That will no longer happen, so everyone who supervises employees must step up to fill the gap. When employees, especially remote workers, don't hear from leaders and managers often enough, the void can lead to anxiety and uncertainty.
What seems like the right strategy today may seem entirely wrong tomorrow. That's ok, but it is necessary to make decisions with the data you have. If you wait for all of the information to come in and find the perfect plan, it may be too late to adjust operations to meet the current need.
Let your team members know that they will need to be flexible too. Strategies and tactics will change as the situation evolves.
Related: W.H.O. Executive Director, Dr. Michael Ryan shares critical leadership insights learned during past Ebola outbreaks.
Establish a New Routine
Nothing unsettles people more than a disruption to long-established routines. It is unlikely that business can proceed as usual, so it is essential to establish a new cadence of communication and interaction that people can rely on. You might want to commit to an update email that will be sent at the same time every day or on specific days during the week. People will be happy to know when they can expect more current information.
Managers should also establish a routine for checking in with employees whether they are remote or are essential workers who must come into the building. These regular interactions will give team members the chance to share their challenges, ask questions, and feel connected to the organization.
A good friend once told me, "Everyone is walking around with an invisible bag of rocks, and you never know how many rocks are in someone else's bag." That's a good thing to keep in mind right now. This situation will have a greater or lesser impact on every person in your organization due to circumstances that you can't possibly know.
Everyone should be encouraged to have empathy for each other and to make decisions that support employees to the greatest extent possible. This is the time to consider just exactly how much you can do to mitigate the financial and social impact this crisis will have on your team and customers.
Ask Employees for Ideas
We always promote the concept of bottom-up improvement, and it's more critical than ever right now. Ask your employees what your organization can do to help them weather this storm. They may ask for things you can't provide, but that's still valuable information about what's on their minds. They may also have great suggestions for how to improve communications, make them more productive in the new reality, and provide outstanding customer service.
Practice Self Care
The reason they tell you to put the mask on yourself before assisting others on the airplane is that you can't help anyone if you are unconscious. The same is true here. Most leaders are inclined to put the needs of others before themselves, which is a noble trait, but it can go too far. If you attend to your own physical and emotional needs, you'll be better able to support your team.
In this situation, if you don't feel well, you must distance yourself from others and seek medical care according to the advice of the CDC. Mental health is equally as important, so find something safe that you can do to reset yourself and prepare for each new day.
This isn't going to be easy. It might be prolonged, and some facets of life and business will never be the same. But you can shepherd your team through this, learning every step of the way and providing a sense of hopefulness that your team undoubtedly needs.