Leading in a Crisis

March 15th, 2020

Unexpected catastrophic ordeals like the caronavirus pandemic highlight the need for leadership at multiple levels. While this is a global health crisis, the issues don’t stop at the hospital door, the CDC or the White House. The social and economic ramifications demand well-anchored leaders for any business or organization that hopes to stay afloat during storms like this.

In an article entitled “How to lead in times of crisis” in Fast Company, Meredith Parfet and Aaron Solomon give sage advice for leaders at any level of authority. Here are the principles applicable for today's crisis as well as future challenges pulled from their article.

Open, honest, clear, and timely communication is critical.

You’ve likely received dozens of emails from companies and organizations about their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But great communication is not about PR. It’s about building trust and building confidence that capable leadership is at the helm of the ship during the storm.

While the news is scary, those you lead need to be calm, resolved, and not afraid of the truth. Leaders can’t know everything, but followers of Christ know Someone who does.

My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore. Psalm 131:1-3

Consult the experts.

Parfet and Solomon suggest that one of the ways to negotiate between charged emotions and facts and data is to leverage other voices of authority—in this case the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local, state or county health departments.

An article in the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition 3/14/2020, outlines a number of the legal/logistical issues about remote work, business travel, sick leave, etc. that will help you sort out your movements during this health crisis.

All of us need wise counsel.

Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance. Proverbs 20:18  

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22  

Build community.

Parfet and Solomon warn that fear can make us feel powerless. Without encouraging people around us, isolation created by social distancing and remote work can breed fear. Fortunately, we have a host of electronic tools to keep us connected while apart. A morning email or video from leaders can keep people encouraged and linked during good times as well as challenges.

Community is critical for human flourishing and for enthusiastic work. We all want to feel part of something important.

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained Proverbs 29:18 

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12  

Solicit feedback.

Maybe more important than speaking confidently is listening compassionately. What assurances do people need to feel safe? Listening well says we care about people and what they think. As a leader you may not be able to address everything that employees are facing, but the fact that you are aware and compassionate speaks volumes.

He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13  

Be flexible and willing to bend some rules.

The situation has changed, and rules made to fit a world without a pandemic may need to be adjusted or abandoned. People will remember long after the crisis has passed that their leader paid attention and advocated for their wellbeing.

Men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do--200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command; 1 Chronicles 12:32  

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:22

Focus on People not the Crisis.

It’s easy to get mired in detail during a crisis, warn Parfet and Solomon. “It is not uncommon to surround ourselves with technical experts (and lawyers) and forget the power of human nature. Crises are not solved with reason and data alone.” Leaders who recognize their employees are first and foremost human beings not just human capital lead with empathy and compassion.

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

“The ramifications of crisis management, or more importantly mismanagement,” say Parfet and Solomon, “last well beyond the end of a crisis. Employees, customers, partners, regulators, your community, are all watching carefully to see how you react to uncertainty.”

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