Leading in Times of Crisis: Balancing a New Set of Success Metrics

The spread of COVID-19 has forced unmatched levels of change and uncertainty upon us and taken an emotional toll impacting our daily ability to focus and function.  Leaders successfully navigating this crisis with their people are regularly pausing to acknowledge and respond to both their own emotions as well as employees’ feelings of anxiety, fear, and grief in order to effectively move their teams forward.

Our adaptation of the Change Curve, informed by the research of Elrod and Tippett, illustrates the emotional journey typically experienced in times of disruption as well as the magnitude and range of emotions felt as individuals come to terms with change. Although there is a progression from left to right, it is important to understand that responses are not always linear and that it is common to move back and forth along the curve—especially in times of crisis, as change rapidly unfolds. Leaders often feel a responsibility to respond with courage, optimism, and an unmistakable calm, driving toward Acceptance and Commitment as quickly as possible in order to best support their teams. This is not always possible—nor is it a realistic expectation. Leaders are prone to the same emotions as everyone else; acknowledging and owning these feelings in ourselves and identifying and honoring them in others are key to helping us move past them.

Examining our leadership role in the context of the COVID-19 crisis has surfaced a new set of success metrics that must be balanced to effectively navigate this change and achieve sustainable results. Conducting a weekly leadership “pulse check,” we can monitor how we are doing against the following:

    1. Supporting Self
    2. Supporting and Inspiring Others
    3. Setting Direction and Mobilizing Action

Supporting Self:  Protecting the physical and mental health, safety, and well-being of employees throughout this crisis requires leaders to prioritize and model self-care. Tapping into our emotional intelligence to inform our decision-making and regulate how we respond to our own and others’ needs is vital to ensuring our organizations emerge from this pandemic stronger than before. While self-care at this time might feel self-indulgent, it is critical to caring for and leading others. We have an obligation to display through our own behavior and interactions how we are keeping ourselves whole, balanced, and resilient in order to give our people permission to prioritize what they need to meet the challenges at hand.

What does self-care look like for leaders amid COVID? Make time for what “fuels you.” Regularly pause to clear your head, reflect, and understand what you need in the moment. Accept that in this time of great uncertainty you will not have all the answers, and this is okay. Regularly seek connection with peer leaders and lean on trusted advisors for guidance and support.

As a leader, are you present and aware of where you are emotionally and what you need to support yourself? Are you proactively caring for yourself or reacting moment to moment? Do you have a support system and trusted advisors in place?

Supporting and Inspiring Others:  Inspiring and mobilizing people in times of crisis requires leading from the head and heart. Seeking to understand our peoples’ perspectives and showing genuine care for their feelings creates the psychological safety needed to work through unspoken concerns. Modeling honesty, vulnerability, and empathy sets the tone for our teams and can open a dialogue that reins in employee fears, promotes optimism, and rallies their best thinking.

If you are unsure of where to begin, start by asking questions, demonstrating patience, curiosity, and a willingness to listen with an open mind. Frequently check in and validate where others are on the emotional change curve, meeting each employee where they are, and offering encouragement. Architect social support and connection by assigning “buddies” within teams, conducting regular team huddles, and one-on-ones. Ensure time spent with team members addresses topics such as well-being, capacity, new ways of working, and key priorities enabling a path forward. Follow up regularly; team members feeling okay today might not feel the same tomorrow.

Do you have a solid understanding of where your team members are on the change curve and what they need from you today? Do you regularly check in to offer encouragement and provide the support to help them move forward? Are you honest, transparent, and caring in your communications?

Setting Direction and Mobilizing Action:  An enduring crisis such as this will require all of us—leaders and team members—to show up stronger, longer. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and each day will bring new challenges and opportunities requiring compassion and collaboration to sustain. The most effective leaders will have the connection and understanding to draw out the strength of their people in new ways and create a way forward that employees will feel they can both contribute and commit to.

Begin by assessing and identifying critical work at this moment in time and engaging the right people in the right activities.  Check your horizon and model agility with your team since you will require the same from them, resetting expectations along the way. Communicate plans honestly and in a way that resonates at a rational and emotional level. Be adaptable and open to new opportunities, making strategic choices with a clear understanding of tradeoffs for your team and organization.

Are you balancing near- and long-term planning, carefully articulating criteria, assumptions, and contingencies? Do you set and reset expectations with others, clearly defining their role? How are you engaging your teams in preparing for the “new normal”?

We recently volunteered our time to host a series of Leading in Times of Crisis workshops to support our executive network in navigating the change and uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. This is the first in a sequence of articles derived from the workshop offering change expertise and resources to help equip leaders at all levels to lead their people through this crisis successfully.

DCG’s purpose—and promise—has always been to help leaders lead change, and it drives us now more than ever to support our colleagues, clients, partners, and friends in managing through the impacts of COVID-19. Our team is with you on this journey, and we are here to help.

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