Watching the recent coronavirus crisis unfold here in the US, and the early botched messaging from our government leadership is a good reminder of how not to lead in a time of crisis.
Here are three fundamental principles to follow when leading through a crisis.
- Be transparent and honest. When facing a crisis, it is essential to be extremely clear and honest when expressing the exact circumstances of the crisis. Do not sugar coat the situation. Do not pretend it's not as bad as it is. Know exactly where you stand, and communicate that. If you try to minimize it or pretend it is not as bad as it is, it will only make matters worse and come back to haunt you. Everyone around you probably knows the gravity of the situation, and it is your role as a leader to express it clearly. If you do this, you will engender respect and, most of all, trust.
- Have a plan, communicate it, and execute it. As a leader, crises will come up over time, and its not the crisis itself that will define your leadership but how you handle it. After you communicate the crisis, the next important step is to outline a plan of action. Communicate a clear plan for how you will tackle the crisis. Explain the steps in the plan and the timeline. Communicate the risks and challenges you will face in your plan, and how you will tackle those risks to increase your chance of success. It is also important to communicate to your team what is expected of them in order to execute the plan and achieve the intended results. Again, it is important to be clear and forthright.
- Communicate your progress regularly. Use data if you have it. Once your plan is underway, its important to communicate your progress and continue to reiterate the plan. Make adjustments to your plan if necessary and communicate those changes. Always be clear on the good, the bad, and the ugly of where you are and how things are progressing. If you have data, then use it to represent the state of the situation and your progress over time. Clear, accurate data is the best way to communicate the state of where you are and to show progress and transparency. The data will reflect how bad things are at the early stages and peaks of the crisis, and that may be difficult to show, but it is important to show it anyway. Over time, as you execute your plan and improve, data will be your best friend as it will highlight your progress and improvements.
Next time you are faced with a leading through a crisis, follow these principles, and you will increase your chances of success and engender the trust of the organization you are leading.
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