The Qualities a Great Leader Needs in Times of Crisis

It can’t be denied that we’re living in unprecedented times. Instead of planning quarter to quarter, we are forced to plan day by day. The only thing I know for certain is that schools in Massachusetts will be closed until May 4th and I’m glad I have older kids who can participate in online school while I’m working in the other part of the house.

But as a leader, it is hard not to have all the answers. And if we can’t always predict what is happening, how do we lead?  

Leadership has never been more crucial, with employees needing comfort and guidance more than ever. A strong leader should be able to support their team and motivate even when times are challenging, promoting continuity and maintaining a positive outlook where possible. The attitude of the leader will filter throughout the business and impact staff from managers to recent grads.

However, as a leader, it can be difficult to gain advice. Who is there to help those that are meant to advise? When times are so uncertain and we’re greeted with new guidelines every day, what is the solution?  

I’ve compiled some tips for leaders during these confusing times. All are qualities that are common in great leadership, but it seems more crucial than ever to implement them during the covid-19 pandemic. While the world can be a scary and ambiguous place, maintaining these values should provide comfort and continuity for your team.

1. Be clear and calm

In times of crisis, it is the leaders we expect to stay calm and help us through. The attitude of management reflects on the workforce in any situation; so, in uncertain times managers, CEOs and anyone in a leadership role must remain as level-headed as possible. Ensure you offer calm and clear instructions to your team; confidence is the key to ensuring everyone feels secure and supported. If you are unsure of your business’ next move, make it clear that the situation may change but communicate what you expect from employees in a way that’s easy to understand, and has no room for ambiguity.

2. Be honest

During the covid-19 crisis, we’re all in the same boat. There’s no point in pretending that your business is the exception to the rule, as right now everyone is incredibly understanding about the financial climate. Be honest with your employees about how your business stands. You don’t have to give them a play by play of every financial update but share what you can since it is always better if everyone is on the same page.

3. Put everything into context

A great leader must have empathy, especially in uncertain times. While what’s happening in your business may be your priority you mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Understand the impact that this global crisis is having on the people involved in your business both in their personal and professional lives. If it means that you need to be flexible during this time, then do it! It will only help to build up your employer brand and employee loyalty in the long run. Some leaders rule with an iron fist, but the best leaders have a heart.

4. Talk to people

If your employees are having a hard time, you must encourage them to talk. As a leader, you can’t be expected to know and understand everything that’s going on with every member of your team. Instead, create a company culture that encourages discussion. Let employees know that they can come to you to talk through issues, to ask questions and be vulnerable. In times that are scary and uncertain, having a network of people to talk to can be a lifeline for most people, and understanding what’s going on outside of work for your employees will help you to become a better leader.

5. Let your workforce grow and develop

As business may slow down, now is the perfect opportunity to develop your team. While things are quieter than usual, offer employees the chance to learn a skill or improve their existing ones. As a leader, it is a time of clarity to see what everyone can do without the distraction of travel and all-day meetings. Training courses take time and now you’ll have more of it. This will give you a unique opportunity to bridge any skills gaps that your organization has while investing in your employees and thus improving your employee value proposition. Investing in people and letting them develop skills will give them confidence in you as a leader but will also put you in a stronger position when business is back to normal.  

6. Check-in when you can

Remote working isn’t easy and remote leading is even harder. If your business, like many out there, has adopted a remote working strategy to protect employees throughout the covid-19 crisis then you must check in on your employees. Schedule time for regular business updates, team catch-ups, and even general water cooler style chat; this will keep your team connected and keep working relationships strong but will also position you as a leader that cares. Plus, as much as it’s important to make sure your employees are working, make sure they’re not. Working from home can lead to members of staff working more than they should, not taking breaks and not looking after their mental well-being; not working is almost as important as working!

7. We all have something in common – embrace it

As a Bostonian, I will never forget the impact of September 11th or the Boston Marathon bombing. It was shocking, frightening and amazing to hear from all the contacts and partners I worked with around the world. There was sympathy and empathy, but my UK colleagues and clients were not experiencing it at the same time. Thanks to Covid-19, we have a shared experience. For the first time, we are meeting regularly with clients and sales prospects in our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. We are meeting each other’s pets and children before we even begin to discuss a proposal. We are building closer relationships ironically thanks to social distancing.

8. How do we continue to strive for success?

For many leaders, this is the first time they’ll be able to step back and think. It’s the perfect time to explore new opportunities whether that’s in understanding how your business works, how it can expand or even how you plan to recruit new talent. Use this downtime to think creatively, to map out the talent you already have in your business and mark any potential future opportunities. Work out any skills-gaps and whether your existing employees can fill them or if you need to provide specialist training. Connect with recruitment businesses who can help you to succession plan and map specific talent for your business. This chaos may have helped you to realize which areas of your business need more attention and how your business needs to evolve.

Now you have time to breathe and think, there’ll never be a better time to succession plan and create a strategy for when the cloud has lifted- and the clouds will lift eventually!

Be safe, be creative and be ready to continue in this new world with a mission.

Jody Robie is a shareholder and manages North America for Talent Works International. She helps clients leverage our team of brand and insight specialists, creative marketers and global recruiters.  She uses her expertise to research, validate, implement and activate employer brands for companies of all sizes ranging from Babson College, RELX, Moderna, iRobot, Shopify and Primark.