At this point in our leading in crisis dialogue, we have started with you and invested in a compassion practice. Fundamentally, both practices are about you. About shifting your mindset, your approach, and your compassion towards yourself and others. That work is the foundation for you to lead your team. It’s also important to note that your work on this foundation will never be “complete” but an evolving journey of doing better over time.
That actually is a good point to stop. As a leader, you never have the opportunity to approach a crisis sequentially, and you definitely never have the time to start with you. How do you know how, where & when to move forward while doing the foundational work on yourself? A few simple assessment questions help:
- Does this crisis change our vision long term?
- Does this crisis change our goals short term?
- Who on the team is impacted by this crisis directly?
- Who is impacted on the team by this crisis indirectly?
- Are our customers impacted directly or indirectly?
To use a sailing analogy (from a period of time I obviously never lived), this would be using the north star to sail home and a severe storm hits. During the storm, you are getting new information – is the boat damaged in any way? Did we lose any members of the crew? Were our supplies impacted? That new information will inform new smaller goals for your team during the crisis: do you need to repair the boat? Throw out a life preserver? These new pieces of information will also inform whether you need to change your north star overall. After the storm passes, are we still heading home? Is that even possible given the impacts to our crew, boat and supplies?
You may have been able to tell that I have never been on a 19th century sailing voyage, but this applies to modern day events like the pandemic. Take Airbnb as an example, they were hit by COVID-19 and got a lot of new information about shutdowns that affect travel (flights and cities). That new information lead them to a dynamic shift in short term goals direction based on the impact by enabling easy refunds for all travelers through the summer. Then, more new information came in about how those refunds would impact their hosts bottom line leading them to shift Airbnb experiences online and set-up a fund for their superhosts. As they made those incremental changes, they realized the longer term impact COVID-19 would have on their business leading to drastic restructuring and layoffs, as well as new campaigns to travel local.
In both examples, finding true north during a crisis was a process of understanding new information, quickly picking a direction, executing, listening/understanding new information, adjusting and executing. In a crisis, no one (your team or your customers) expects you to have all the answers, but they do expect you to have answers and responses to the most obvious ones.
The three traps that leaders fall into are
- Silence and lack of action – when a deluge of new information hits in a crisis leaders will get paralyzed by making the wrong choice
- Consensus decision making – it is impossible to please everyone, pick the best option based on the information you have
- Overpromising – if you are unsure about anything, don’t communicate with certainty about that thing
To summarize, as a leader in crisis, you will be balancing working on yourself and leading from the front. Quickly utilizing new information to make the right short term decisions without overpromising or committing on the unknowns.