Leading through a crisis

“Crisis,” “pandemic,” “adversity,” “social distancing” and “toilet paper” all have new meanings to us this year.

Even though we are working through a worldwide challenge we, as leaders, are not new to a crisis. We have had to handle crises in the past and will have the opportunity to lead through more in the future. What are we learning and how can we consistently come out successful?

According to John Maxwell, a leadership guru, we need to put people first, above anything else. These people are our family, customers, stockholders and employees. Like this list, the employees often are last on the priority of communication. We try to be authentic and share details, however, it is common that employees feel unaware and forgotten.

My friend in California was sharing with me how her restaurants are taking a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. That did not surprise me. All restaurants are being challenged. Her goal is to keep her restaurants open and her employees employed.

She has calculated that each restaurant needs to sell 46 take-out meals per day to cover expenses and salaries. In early March she started communicating this number to her employees via text and email. Within a few days her employees were texting her in the evenings asking what the end-of-day numbers were. They were asking if the restaurant will be open tomorrow. Will they have a paycheck this week?

Seeing this new world in their eyes my friend began texting all employees in the morning and in the evening. The morning texts were motivating and encouraging. The evening texts were factual, listing the details of the day.

Very quickly her team started using this text to brainstorm other creative ways that they can help add income to the business. The employees were invested in the success of the business instead of only doing what was asked of them by completing their daily work shift. They felt useful and productive. It wasn’t just the business owner leading the team. They were all leading and encouraging each other.

What can you do now to connect with your people? Here are examples from creative leaders who I have seen in action during the past month:

• Add value to your current and future customers. Give away or discount what you have because this is what people need right now. Give essential products like masks or sewing lessons or free delivery or Zoom training.

• Let your employees see and hear from you often. Be real and authentic with what you know and don’t know. What are you handling every day? What are you feeling and thinking? Create a video and email it to the entire organization every morning. Most have smartphones that can capture videos. Upload it as an “unlisted” video in your YouTube channel and share this link with your employees via email. (“Unlisted” videos are not public. Only people with the link can view the video.)

• Schedule routine Zoom meetings with your direct reports. They need you. Give them your time and attention so that they know when they can connect with you without interrupting your day.

• Ask people how they are doing. What can you do to help them right now? Sometimes all I want is to know that others care about me, not just the business.

All great leaders have dips in their success — moments when they were not at their best. Growth comes through change. Evaluate every day, recognize how you might have dipped in leading your people and change your systems for tomorrow. This is how we grow and lead successfully through a crisis.