Emotionally Intelligent Leadership in Uncertain TimesArticle by Maynard Brusman, May 4, 2020
Leadership in Times of Crisis
The men and women in charge of our organizations are now faced with unchartered challenges: leading their organization through a global pandemic. In this time of crisis, most leaders are doing their best to step up and inspire people to do their best. And they’re doing a great job.
One of the challenges is the evolving new normal. Rapidly changing guidelines, mandates, and infrastructure require continual monitoring and adjustments. Leaders are in a constant state of discovery, decision making, designing, and implementation. This requires resilience, collaboration, and great communication.
Those who are able to adapt quickly and wisely are best positioned to lead their organization, and in many cases, their entire nation, in novel ways. Great leadership in a time of crisis will see us through to the other side.
Business continuity management is more important than ever. Based on the conversations I’ve had with leaders, developing, refining, and implementing contingency plans is well underway. With careful attention to employee safety and preparedness, leaders can minimize risk, and in some cases, position themselves for post-crisis growth. Below are a few leadership best practices. Are you taking these steps?
First, and foremost, focus on employee safety. Review policies, and then identify actual practices. Ensure you have adequate communicable-illness plans and practices in place.
Credible Authorities and Resources
Identify a crisis management team with the authority and autonomy to work through bottlenecks. Identify cross-functional alternates in different scenarios to: stabilize supply chain, monitor and test financials, protect the workforce, engage customers, and coordinate communication.
- Review your absence policies.
- Empower and equip remote/telecommute work. Identify tasks that can be completed remotely, and who is capable of completing the tasks.
- Determine measurable performance metrics
- Identify data-security issues and resolutions.
- Establish communication protocol.
Clear, factual, and reliable communication is vital. Test your process to verify communications will reach all employees, and that all employees are able to have questions answered.
Develop messaging for different scenarios to inform coworkers or third parties about increased risks or exposure, along with a current phone and email contact list by location for health reporting.
Designate and train person(s) to promptly notify local public health authorities about confirmed as well as suspected cases of the coronavirus.
Thoughtful, intentional, and honest communication is a vital strategy to navigate a fast-moving crisis. Avoiding or burying bad news serves no one in the long run. Transparency requires preparation for the “worse before better” reality.
Virtual meetings are a great tool, even to have those difficult or controversial conversations. As a leader, all participants will look to you to set expectations and boundaries. Model the behavior you would like to see.
- Prepare, practice, and test.
- Whenever possible, meet via video, with an option of audio/dial-in for slower bandwidth. Consider having a virtual meeting assistant or facilitator.
- Send an agenda before the meeting, with all needed materials and instructions. Be clear on the meeting objective, and monitor time and focus.
- Allow for instruction and if needed, practice time. For any meeting lasting more than 50 minutes, build in breaks.
- For smaller groups (<20) have all participants introduce themselves by name, role, geographic location (town/city) and surrounding (my home office). During the meeting, ask people by name to contribute. Use use polls and voting (raise your hand) to encourage engagement.
- Just like your in-person meetings, allow adequate time for questions, and discussion on next-steps: deadlines, roles, and when to expect updates.
Manage Stress and Build Resilience
Building mental resilience requires intention and practice. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a great method to practice this. UMass Memorial Medical Center is just one organization who offers an 8-week online live course.
Guided meditation is also a great option, and there are many Apps available to help, including Insight Timer and UCLA Mindful.
Some Buddhist communities are also offering virtual, online “sits” to support others with their practice, and remind us of our human connectedness. Trike Daily, The Buddhist Review Tricycle.org, offers a great exercise for leaders: relax the problem solver.
Make Better Decisions
Threats to our well-being, uncertainties, and awareness of our lack of control elevate anxiety, stress, and lead us to make short-sighted decisions. Unwittingly, many of us feed uncertainty by consuming more negative news and rushing to action. Here are three techniques you can use to slow down:
- Calm your mind. Use a four second breathing technique. Slowly breathe in for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Slowly exhale for four seconds. Pause for four seconds. Repeat.
- Rest your eyes; if possible, gently gaze out a window. Give your mind space to unhook from screens, images, and headlines.
- Find new ways to connect with others. Meaningful connection begins with compassion. The practice of compassion starts by asking, “how can I help this person?” The great paradox is that by opening ourselves with this one question, we actually build mental resilience and manage stress.
Leaders who slow down, deliberate with data and reason, make better decisions. Take the time to read, verify, reflect, and check before making personal and business decisions. A qualified executive coach can help.
While it’s important to be transparent in communications, be mindful that anxiety and fear are contagious.
- Prepare yourself. Before you speak, write, or hit send, take a minute to center yourself. Pause, and breathe.
- Imagine. What has been the experience of others? What are their challenges and needs? Acknowledge this in your message.
- Validate. Share information that is credible. Be mindful and clear with your word choices. When you don’t know, say so.
- Identify the next action step for you and your audience. This provides an opportunity to unite, contribute, and take action, all supportive to a sense of purpose, meaning, and control. Be prepared to answer questions through this process, and acknowledge feelings.
Be Present and Focus on the Now
To focus on the now, ask your team:
- What do we want to accomplish?
- What did we do yesterday that worked well?
- What do we need to do today, based on any new information?
- What do you need from me to accomplish this?
Plan for Later: Think Ahead
Leaders who are able to think ten steps ahead collaborate, partner, and foster innovative solutions.
Think of the wide range of innovators who recently mobilized to address the serious shortage of critical equipment needed to treat the coronavirus. Through online messaging platforms, they worked together to build innovative protective gear and ventilators. This form of crowdsource designing is the next level of modularity, diversification, and innovate solutions.
New business models will continue to emerge to address the challenges of prolonged social distancing (multiple world model, transformation economy), the need for sterile delivery (decentralized autonomous organizations) and the strain on our healthcare (crowd economy.)
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
San Francisco Bay Area
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Tags: emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership development, mindful leadership, uncertain times