There is no leadership manual for dealing with a once-in-a-century global health emergency – no script to guide what you need to say to team members, clients and stakeholders of your company.
Right now, everyone’s leadership skills are being tested in ways that we could hardly have imagined a month ago. It’s not just about how resilient our organizations are and how quickly they can adapt to travel blockages and restrictions. It is a challenge for our resilience as human beings.
When Slack founder Stewart Butterfield tweeted in recent days about how his company was responding to the Covid-19 emergency, he prefaced his comments with a simple introductory note: “I’m a human. I worry about my family and I am deeply concerned about the millions of people whose jobs and health are at risk. It was the right starting note.
I have always believed that great leadership is forged in the crucible of adversity, but great leaders are those who react with empathy and vulnerability even when they make the most difficult decisions. We all need reserves of determination and positivity precisely when these qualities are strained.
Where do these reservations come from? Here are four ways to build resilience:
Have your resilience
Meet one of the most remarkable people I know, Debra Searle. She is a successful entrepreneur, writer and television presenter – and has been twice honored by the Queen for her achievements in her native United Kingdom and beyond. She has a mental toolbox that has served her well through one of the most difficult tests imaginable: rowing alone across 3000 miles of ocean in a boat built for two.
Debra’s advice ranges from “directing the film” – visualize yourself confronting and overcoming difficult times ahead – to choosing your attitude on a daily basis.
“It’s the only thing I had a choice on,” says Debra. “Every day, I made a choice of attitude: I said it out loud. It had to be a positive attitude. Negative attitudes were prohibited on the boat. “
Keep on communicating
Keep talking. Keep listening. Our team communicates openly on several channels as the coronavirus crisis develops and after the decision to ask staff to work remotely. There is virtual meetings, recorded sessions, emails, and I opened my schedule to anyone in the business to set aside time for a conversation. And these conversations have varied from the current crisis, to our customers’ response, to the simple laughter of our home office hijackings.
The most important message is how to adopt the “new normal” for the whole team. We all need to prioritize and support our family at times like these. For some, the new standard may look like two adults competing for Internet bandwidth at home in turn to respond to the cries of a child or two. For others, it could be parents or parents at risk. But whatever the new standard for each colleague, there is one thing they all needed to know about their boss: putting your family and your well-being first. If something has to give in life right now, let it work.
When all is done, think and learn
When this crisis ends – and it will be over time – the temptation is for leaders to rush in without looking back. But part of resilience is learning lessons. Former US Navy SEAL commander Mark McGinnis describes this as part of the “corporate battle rhythm” – a full cycle of planning, briefing, execution and debriefing.
“After a mission, we immediately meet in a very sacred environment where there is no rank, no blame, no privilege, no seniority, and we sit down and talk unmovingly about the successes and failures of the mission. It is important to capture both, ”he says.
“Success because we want to keep doing things that work and failure because we can’t afford to make the same mistake twice. If we repeat mistakes in my world, it will have catastrophic results.”
And the result of the debriefing of a SEAL team is not limited to the mission team. The lessons are open to all SEALs, from top to bottom. “I speed up the experience for everyone, whether they go out and do operations or not,” says Mark.
Take the time to reflect and keep a record; no two crises are the same, but there will be lessons to be learned from your organization’s response to Covid-19.
Lead as if your children are watching
Essentially, times of crisis challenge leaders to be the best versions of themselves. I remember an idea that Sean Pederson of Trek Bicycles had a few years ago: “Lead as if your children are watching.” This is great advice. And now, if you read this while you work at home, they probably are.
Alex Shootman is CEO of Work front