4 Essential Behaviors for Leading in Times of Crisis

Good leaders are prepared to manage crises when necessary, but all leaders faced challenges that no one foresaw when a pandemic completely changed business models, staffing situations, and access to products, supplies, and technology. Restaurants switched to carry-out only, hair stylists created “color at home” kits and “met” with clients via Zoom to give instructions, and small t-shirt companies began producing masks, in just a few examples of business owners pivoting to meet the new challenge.

Organizations that were positioned to survive the pandemic and even thrive in the aftermath, have leaders who were quick to assess the situation, adapt to the new environment and remain focused on priorities and goals. According to a Harvard Business Review article that describes the results of more than 21,000 leadership assessments among C-suite executives there are four key behaviors in leaders and their teams that are essential for managing during a crisis. As association and business leaders evaluate their performance during this latest crisis and make plans to improve, consider these behaviors:

Behavior 1: Decide with Speed Over Precision

  • Define priorities. Identify and communicate the three to five most important ones.
  • Make smart trade-offs. What conflicts might arise among the priorities you have outlined? The best leaders use their priorities as a scoring mechanism to force trade-offs.
  • Name the decision makers. Your default should be to push decisions downward, not up.
  • Embrace action, and don’t punish mistakes. Missteps will happen, but failing to act is much worse.

Behavior 2: Adapt Boldly

  • Decide what not to do. Put a hold on large initiatives and expenses, and ruthlessly prioritize. Publicize your “what not to do” choices.
  • Throw out yesterday’s playbook. The actions that previously drove results may no longer be relevant.
  • Strengthen (or build) direct connections to the front line. Effective leaders extend their antennae across all the ecosystems in which they operate.

Behavior 3: Reliably Deliver

  • Stay alert to and aligned on a daily dashboard of priorities. Review performance against those items frequently — if not daily, perhaps weekly — and share this information with direct reports.
  • Set KPIs and other metrics to measure performance. Choose three to five metrics that matter most for the week.
  • Keep mind and body in fighting shape. To reliably deliver, leaders must maintain their equanimity even when others are losing their heads.

Behavior 4: Engage for Impact

  • Connect with individual team members. Reach out daily for a “pulse check” with least five employees. Relate on a personal level first, and then focus on work.
  • Dig deep to engage your teams. When communication breaks down and leaders act without team input, they get subpar results.
  • Ask for help as needed. The best leaders know they can’t do everything themselves.
  • Ensure a focus on both customers and employees. To build trust, keep the focus off yourself and explore how you can truly help your customers and employees.
  • Collect and amplify positive messages —successes, acts of kindness, obstacles that have been overcome