Leading Your Team Through A Crisis
Updated: Jul 30
It would be fair to say that no one could have possibly seen 2020 coming.
I have worked with so many companies in the past few years that were projecting some incredible things to happen this year only to have the rug pulled out from under them. Now most have had to restructure goals for the year, downsize their teams, and completely rethink what will be possible. Unfortunately, a few have had to close their doors completely.
It is safe to say that no sane person enjoys a crisis (like a pandemic) coming along. People had to stay home to shelter in place, then started working from home, and even become teachers for their children as schools moved to online.
And Zoom meetings became a thing overnight to the rest of the world that had never tried virtual gatherings before. Now it appears they are going strong. We all had to adapt to a new way of life in a short amount of time.
So what have we learned in the midst of all this? How can we effectively lead our team in a time of crisis like this or others to come?
Be open, be honest, but be a leader.
If you've ever watched someone who has a plan for their trip, you know they have a laser focus. A decisive Christmas shopper looks completely different in the mall than a casual one. The casual person will meander around looking at everything with no goal, while the decisive shopper is there to get that one item that is on sale and get away.
As a leader, you probably found early on in the crisis that your team has some indecisive folks in there. You may have had your natural go-getters who were ready to do whatever and get back to work as soon as possible, but you also had those who were suddenly aimless as their daily routine was completely disrupted. It was a good way to find the team members who will eventually make good managers or leaders if nothing else.
But no matter who they were, every single one of them had moments of uncertainty and needed direction. Even you, the solid leader that you are, had those moments where you forgot what day it was and had to rethink your every step. The key is not to let your team drift. In an uncertain times when they feel they are drowning, they need something solid to hold on to. That "something solid" is your leadership and direction.
Don't act like nothing's wrong. Don't pretend it's all just going to plan. Be honest and let them know plans have had to change. Goals may not be reached this year. Expansion plans may not happen. We have had to change the game halfway through.
And that will be okay. Not ideal, but still doable. Give your team hope.
2. Be flexible with goals but still set them.
People with no direction get restless, scared, and sometimes lazy. If you know you won't reach your sales goals this year and you need to adjust them, then do so and get that new information out to your team as soon as possible. Let them see your company is still moving forward no matter what. One step forward is progress, as long as it's not followed by two steps backward.
And your goals should still be something that has to be fought for. Don't make them intentionally easy. Don't frustrate your team with unreachable ones, but give them something to work for.
3. Embrace new ideas and technologies if possible.
As I mentioned earlier, Zoom meetings have become a big thing. Online collaboration has moved to a new level and become a dynamic new way to do things in companies that had never considered it before. And now there are many businesses that have found the model so effective in saving office space that they have no plans of going back to old methods.
But they never would have found this cost-saving measure without trying it.
When you do move back into office space, consider things that can be streamlined. Can your company meetings be held virtually? Yes, there are tremendous advantages to being in person, talking to folks away from the meeting, and networking. Do the math though and try to figure things honestly. Would you save time and money for the teams outside your region to go virtual instead of in person? In a year when every dollar needs to be stretched as tightly as possible, what can you do?
Many company events and gatherings are now being held virtually rather than outright cancelling them. And yes, I can put together a presentation for your next Zoom meeting that will be very effective in getting your message out while still being magical!
4. Value your people and make sure they know it.
People can often feel they slip through the cracks until they mess up. They say they are never noticed until they do something wrong, and suddenly they are some sort of key cog in the wheel that has spiraled them out of control.
Take time today to tell your team how important they are to your company's success and to you personally as a leader. Even if they are doing something repetitive that you don't deem the highest priority, take a moment and appreciate them. In these uncertain times, just the fact that they are stepping up and working at all is a blessing to you.
5. Find someone in your life you can confide to outside the team.
No matter how amazing of a leader you may be, you will have moments of doubt and anxiety as any crisis continues. There will be times when you doubt yourself and wonder how in the world you're going to make it through all this.
This is incredibly important so please listen: do not try to handle it all on your own!
You have to find someone you can confide in that isn't a part of your team. If your company has a professional counselor on staff, don't be afraid to talk to them. If not, find yourself a group of friends who will listen to you without judgement, and who it will be perfectly fine to let your guard down to. Your team may need to see a solid front, but you still need someone you can be honest with.
Trying to bottle things up and keep a steel demeanor 24/7 will only lead to inner turmoil you do not need (and can't handle forever). Get some outside advice and ideas. Go blow off steam in a bowling game with some friends. Have dinner with someone who is facing a similar situation and see what is working for them. Whatever you do, find someone to help shoulder the load when no one is looking.
Burnout for leaders happens far more often in a crisis than in good times of high sales for obvious reasons. Your team needs you. Your family needs you. Stay mentally healthy.
Every crisis eventually reaches a stopping point. It's just a matter of keeping your team running until that moment. Don't give up. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Stay strong, stay decisive, and be the healthy leader they need!