As the COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered our work and home life patterns, many of my clients, colleagues and friends have compared this time to having two jobs at once. In other words, they have their “normal” job – the one they were hired to do – and a new call to lead their teams and/or an entire organization through the coronavirus crisis. Some of them, of course, have a third job as project manager of or substitute teacher for their children’s school schedules or are even serving on the front lines in the medical community or otherwise.
The term drinking from a firehose, describing the overwhelming flow of urgent matters, has come up more than once in conversation.
While our private sector leaders don’t know what the future will hold – as none of us do – they are nonetheless making strategic decisions to address present needs and prepare for possible future scenarios. Often they need to give answers quickly and with a higher risk tolerance than would have been acceptable in the past, while knowing there could be very real consequences for getting it wrong. At the same time, getting it “right” (either on the spot or by slowing down to observe, process and give thoughtful advice) can make positive contributions to the health, safety, wellbeing, professional development and economic viability of employees within their organizations and create far-reaching ripple effects.
While the unprecedented situation has brought heightened pressure and stress, it also provides fertile ground for the disruption of outdated practices and patterns that no longer serve us. Here are a range of crisis leadership examples emerging in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:
Team and Organizational Leadership
- Creating COVID-19 task forces to streamline and provide consistency in strategy and responses
- Helping board members and other senior leaders become more comfortable with virtual platforms for meetings and presentations
- Encouraging input across all levels of the organization, especially from those who are closer to the pulse of customer needs
- Holding happy hours and other team meetings over videoconference, especially to support those employees who are naturally extroverted and finding it draining to be isolated for an extended period
- Hosting enterprise-wide and/or departmental town halls to maintain clear and ongoing communications
- Attending to employees’ mental health and personal concerns, such as childcare and family situations (including the possibility that family members are suffering from the virus), while respecting their need for privacy
Business Leadership and Relationship Management
- Renegotiating (and seeking out new) contracts and partnerships, such as leases and supply chain agreements
- Reinventing how they do business, especially if they are in one of the harder-hit industries
- Actively working with regulators to create flexibility to respond to new situations while honoring policy goals
- Closely monitoring corporate liquidity while trying to keep their workforce in place
- Interpreting ambiguous new laws and executive orders, such as the CARES Act
- Continuously updating modeling and/or 100-day plans; resetting or suspending judgment on appropriate goals through the rest of the calendar year
- Redeploying underutilized staff to support overtasked areas of the business
- Taking business continuity and other lessons from prior crises to apply or adapt to COVID-19 leadership and increase infrastructure resiliency
- Adapting leadership responses across the varying needs of local jurisdictions and international businesses and/or business lines
- Exploring and creating best practices to allow employees to return to their offices without compromising their safety and providing support for those who can and prefer to continue to work from home
- Managing RIFs (reductions in force), hiring freezes and/or prioritization of new hires with limited resources
- Arranging donations of extra materials to organizations and individuals
Individual Time/Self Management
- Creating personal boundaries and work-home distinctions, even as they may working at off hours and in their living spaces
- Branching out into new areas of expertise, while managing the “trial by fire” nature of their expanded responsibilities
- Finding ways to stay “fresh” as the crunch marches on
Feel free to add additional examples of crisis leadership you have witnessed in the comments section below. For more COVID-19 career and leadership resources, please click here or visit AnneMarieSegal.com/covid-19.