The coronavirus crisis is, in a word, unprecedented. Business executives and department heads find themselves facing challenges that even a few months ago would have seemed unfathomable. As the world grapples with the anxiety and fear of a global pandemic, one recurring theme that has arisen is the uncertainty of it all. Every message we receive from businesses and organizations seems to start with “In these uncertain times…”.
Searching for the comfort of certainty, employees turn to their leaders. But as leaders, how can we continue to guide and support our organizations through a seemingly impossible time? Here are a few tips to help you effectively navigate your role as a company leader during the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s imperative for business leaders to be totally transparent with their staff about how COVID-19 is affecting their company and the organization’s response to it—even if these updates are uncomfortable. It may be tempting to take an unflappably confident “everything will be fine” approach, but more often than not this comes off as tone-deaf and unrealistic. At worst, it may raise suspicions among employees that their leadership isn’t being outwardly honest. A much better approach is to clearly communicate the information you do have, the decisions you’re making with it, and openly acknowledging that you’re ready to adjust and change course if necessary. Demonstrating that you recognize the reality of the crisis and are willing to address the issues head on shows your employees that your leadership has remained steadfast as ever.
The coronavirus has forced companies to reorganize and regroup as they shift to remote operations while in quarantine, especially human resource departments. As new responsibilities and challenges arise, so will new leaders, as employees take on different roles as the organization adjusts. It’s important for senior level leaders to embrace and encourage this new group of leaders. That can mean formally granting them the authority to make decisions in their assumed roles, or solidifying their positions on the company’s organizational chart to avoid confusion and promote accountability. Some companies’ crisis-response plans actually include a dedicated COVID-19 task force, whose responsibilities range from boosting company morale to ensuring employees are following the most up-to-date health guidelines from the CDC.
Lead with Empathy
Above all, leaders must understand and acknowledge the enormous impact COVID-19 is having on their employees’ mental and physical health. Everyone is handling the coronavirus in different ways, but all of them must be led with an empathy-first approach, one that recognizes the individual's struggles and responds with support and reassurance. As department heads and team leads, this empathy extends to ourselves too. The past weeks have been filled with stress, tragedy and fear, and being an effective leader doesn’t make you immune to the toll COVID-19 is taking. Be gentle with yourself and invest time in your own well-being, just as you are with your team members.