Why a Crisis Should Change How You Lead
A wise mentor of mine once advised me that when there is major upheaval in the world, we have two choices as to how to respond. One choice is to put our energy into returning to the pre-crisis state, and the other is to transition to something very different once the crisis has resolved.
Enlightened leaders choose the latter. It generally is the natural order of things that when critical moments occur, we push back or deny that the world has changed. We are creatures of habit. We enjoy the routines and ways of interfacing with the world that we have established. These rituals and behaviors have served us well.
But ask yourself this: Maybe our own behaviors do not necessarily benefit others? Just maybe, we impose our values and belief systems on others.
When frameworks no longer apply, such as job security, financial stability, or our family’s wellbeing, this thrusts our community into substantive unrest. It then becomes the natural order for leaders to minimize this level of distress by suggesting that everything will be okay.
Here are the common refrains I hear: “We will get through this,” “Life will get better,” “Stand in unity,” “We will all be stronger for this.”
All potentially true statements. These sentiments are echoed everywhere with intent to foster hope and fortitude. There is, though, a level of dismissal projected onto those who hear these refrains. People in distress have a hard time thinking down the road. They are concerned with each and every day.
When your team members are trying to navigate turbulent times, never forget they live within a context that you as a leader may not be privy to. You may be unaware of the stressors and additional family pressures they are experiencing. You also may make the mistake of deciding on their behalf what they need in order to cope or navigate through challenging times.
We have learned some very important lessons from 9/11. At the outset, clinicians of many disciplines, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and other mental health workers were immediately dispensed to help. The thinking at the time was to intervene early and provide a platform for expressing feelings, fear, and grief.
What we learned was critical. Many people who had tragically experienced pain and trauma often preferred to wait to determine if they wanted, needed, or required assistance. Not everyone wanted professional intervention. In some cases, it was not helpful at all. Mental health protocols were significantly altered by this world event.
[Related: The Upside of Trauma (Yes, It’s Possible)]
One of the greatest mistakes a leader can make is assuming they know or understand the world of their employees. Leaders also make the mistake in assuming all employees process frightening or disturbing events in the same way.
As a leader, you may think you are sensitive. You may believe you have the best listening skills, and you may perceive that you display the right amount of empathy. Perhaps you do.
When we use the term “people leaders,” the danger is that we lump everybody into a collective. What you really should do is acknowledge and recognize that you may not know what your direct reports require during a crisis or critical time.
Enlightened leaders are humble leaders. They take a different approach. They make no assumptions. They spend time listening to their employees and ask them directly what they need, how they can help, or how to be supportive. What will allow them to work through family or personal challenges, as well as what work environment may be best, given the circumstances they are facing?
Make no mistake: Your employees will remember one thing and one thing only. How you treated them through kindness, patience, and flexibility will determine the type of team you will have post-crisis.
Your team will not be the same. As a leader, you play a pivotal role in the composition of your team and the level of engagement you will have fostered. So rather than echoing what may sound like hollow words, such as “We will all come out of this as a stronger team," ask yourself how you should behave differently as a leader.
During a crisis, you must recognize that you are at a pivotal moment in your leadership. Every one of us has the choice to behave in a manner that will create a deeper level of respect by our team members and peers.
If you assume that you know what this means, then you already have faltered. Instead, actively solicit what your employees and peers need from you. Also, remember that their needs may change over time.
If you have emerged from a crisis with greater self-reflection, then you as a leader can stand tall. Not all your peers will have earned this privilege. Decide on which side of the divide you wish to stand. Rest assured if you don’t, your employees will make that decision for you.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
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