Leading in a Crisis: 3 Lessons from a Change Management Expert

“The only thing constant in life is change.” – François de La Rochefoucauld

Many leaders are feeling like change is happening to them versus being at the helm of change because they are being forced to adapt at an unprecedented rate. While this can be overwhelming because work as they know it may never be the same, it is also a time where leaders have the opportunity to shift the focus and energy of their organizations. 

Through utilizing a classic change management approach, they can move their teams away from a fear-based mindset to feeling empowered and ready to tackle challenges head on.

To lead effectively in a crisis, here are three lessons to keep in mind:

  1. Articulate a vision

As leaders look ahead to their company’s future, it’s important to make sure the “why” is their driving force. It’s the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us, and collectively the shared purpose is what propels the best companies forward. Focusing on the “why” is what helps jump start innovation and inspiration.

Following Simon Sinek’s framework, first start with the “why,” then move to the “how” and the “what.” The “how” is the process and the specific actions taken to realize the “why.” The “what” is the result of the “why;” it’s the proof.

Leaders should communicate the vision and purpose to their stakeholders because they can’t do it alone.  It’s counterproductive to shoulder all of the responsibility themselves. Instead inspire and activate those around them to carry out their vision.  It’s just as critical now to enroll and engage key stakeholders. 

  1. Be proactive instead of reactive

It’s critical to be on top of proactive project management, as new risks and resistance can counter even the best efforts. Every company is dealing with a unique set of problems as the global pandemic situation is evolving and changing.  Leaders need to stay nimble and be able to identify those new risks and resistance that are showing up as they implement their roadmap. It’s up to leaders to adapt and adjust their strategy accordingly. What problems are they anticipating and what steps are they taking to turn those problems into solutions?

Explain the plan of action to their employees. Specifically, discuss why they are making certain decisions and outline different scenarios so everyone is prepared.

  1. Refine your communication approach 

Given the stress overload and distractions many employees are struggling to manage, a leader’s communication strategy is essential.

First and foremost, be fully present. Be accessible to their teams and available to answer any questions or concerns they have.

Secondly, communicate often. This will give their teams a sense of security. They shouldn’t wait  until they know all of the answers to relay information. Simply share what they know and what they don’t. Employees will respect and appreciate them more for it.

Provide frequent updates whether it’s via email, phone or video chat. Create opportunities that facilitate genuine dialogue by starting discussions on Google Hangouts, Slack, and other channels.

By learning how to effectively communicate internally and externally, leaders will be able to align your team, offer valuable insight, and turn challenges into opportunities.

The bottom line is this: In the midst of the pandemic, the antiracist movement, and an election year, we’re all in uncharted territory and learning as we go. It’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed. That doesn’t mean you can’t take lessons from previous crises and apply them to the current situation. Leading in a crisis comes down to having a clear vision, being proactive and communicating effectively. When you can do that, you will not only survive these challenging times, you will thrive.