12 Actions That Are Working for Leaders During Crisis

By Ilana Zivkovich - April 2nd, 2020

Another resourceful member-curated blog is hot off the press! We’re thrilled to introduce Ilana Zivkovich, the Founder of Werq. Ilana and her team regularly come alongside businesses to help them reach their full potential, so it only makes sense to see Werq step up in a time such as this to provide support, coaching, and effective actions for leaders navigating these unprecedented times. Here are Ilana’s “12 Actions That Are Working for Leaders During Crisis:”

Everyone is scared and exhausted right now. Kids are home, retail centers are shut down, and remote work is now the norm for many people. Stocks have dropped, and the confidence of the population is shaken. 

But as with many recessions in the past, we will recover. Businesses can adapt, hold, and some will actually thrive in these chaotic times. As a leader, you can be a source of both compassion and solution. You can respond today in ways you will feel proud to share about in the years to come, and in ways that are effective for your team, customers, and business.

Remember that letting fear dictate decisions is really dangerous right now. The fight or flight response is one we must actively move away from at this moment. But ‘business as usual’ is not practical either. The economic impacts here will be significant; ignoring it will not be productive.

Here at Werq, we’re connected with leaders across the country.  At this challenging juncture, we’ve been inspired by the resilience, proactivity, and creative solutions these leaders are implementing. Lots of leaders are doing lots of things that are truly WORKING–right now, in real-time, with real people, getting real results.

So today, we are writing this article to share with you some of the most effective tips and strategies the leaders in our network are sharing with us. Now is a time more than ever to bond together, collaborate, and be open to both learning and sharing when we discover what is working. So read below–take what fits for you and leave the rest. We sincerely hope you find some inspiration in what others are doing well!

What are some of the best practices of leaders, who are excelling amid the disruption of COVID right now?

1. Be relentlessly honest.

No ‘sticking your head in the sand.’ Leaders who are succeeding right now are asking themselves tough questions, and are relentless in their pursuit of truth. Is your market dipping? Are your customers leaving? Are you yourself not sleeping at night? Or maybe there is a swell in demand for what you offer? Maybe you are full of optimism and hope? Whatever the “truth” is–look for it every day. When you find it, use those realities to map your next best steps. When you’re unsure, be willing to ask uncomfortable and unusual questions–of yourself and others. Do not do yourself or those around you the disservice of hiding from what is real.

2. Over-communicate.

With your team, your clients, your vendors–everyone. Check-in. Let it get personal. Everyone is navigating their own version of chaos right now–some are doing so more gracefully than others. Make space for all of it. Ask questions and really listen. Reach out to let your vendors know that you plan to continue–this will likely be music to their ears. Have a 1:1 call with each team member. Or better, make it a video chat. Then do it again three days later. If you come from a bigger company, make sure you are leveraging leaders all throughout the chain of command. A big-picture message may come in video form from the CEO–but follow that up with more intimate team and individual calls throughout the organization. Note: We don’t mean overshare; in fact, fight the urge to predict the future or make promises you aren’t 100% certain you will deliver on. Get comfortable with not “knowing” all the answers. Instead, focus on connection. Focus on where you can provide clarity and stability. Let the people in your world know that you care and are interested in being part of the solution with them.

3. Find ways to bond remotely.

Social isolation is no joke. Maintaining morale and a sense of togetherness through these unusual times will do wonders to optimize the experience and output possible for you and your people. Get creative! Leverage video. Host video happy hours or group fitness classes. A “weirdest hat” challenge. Have everyone show the group their favorite room or piece of art in the house, and describe why. We’re all hunkered down at home, meaning things just got delightfully personal. Lean into it! Use this time to strengthen the connections, far apart though they may be.

4. Play the Long Game. 

Author, speaker, and entrepreneur Clint Greenleaf recently posted the following regarding playing the Long Game during COVID: 

“Think about the stories that you will tell in 10 years about this event.  What kind of leader do you want to be? What kind of boss? What kind of person? You may also want to think about how others will see you, what stories will they tell?” 

Clint Greenleaf

This time will pass. People will forget a lot of it. But they won’t forget those who rose above. They won’t forget the sense of trust you earned when you show up truly wanting to help them. David Horsager and his team at the Trust Edge Leadership Institute have researched extensively and have found that trust is most readily developed during times of crisis. During this global crisis, where can you give, or support, or go a little further to make someone’s life a little better right now? The trust you (and your company’s brand) stand to earn (and the stories those impacted will tell) will far outlast this current situation. Focus there. Be the person today that you want them talking about tomorrow.

5. When delivering tough information, do so with clarity, compassion, and consistency.

Many businesses are facing harsh economic realities. This may mean tough decisions are being made: layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, etc. Leaders who are communicating these things effectively share a few common traits. 1) They take the time they need to get REALLY CLEAR on the decisions they are making. 2) They make a plan to communicate with their teams. (Think: what is the right sequence? Who delivers the message? Through what medium? What are our talking points?) 3) They communicate with clarity, compassion, and consistency. The message within your business or your team needs to mirror your reality, your culture, and your personality. But, those who are communicating tough news effectively are paying attention to the human side of the communication, are careful NOT to over-promise or overshare (we don’t know what next week looks like, let along the next few quarters), and are taking the time to walk their teams through the ‘Why’ behind decisions. By taking these actions, these leaders are enhancing trust and being a source of stability within the storm.

6. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

Attitude will shape this experience for many of us. Leaders we speak with who are excelling in navigating these times are focused on doing what they know they need to do to keep THEMSELVES healthy and whole. Not just washing hands and social distancing. Getting sleep. Connecting with loved ones. Being in nature. Eating well. Prayer. Music. Dance. Whatever you need to feel good inside, make sure you give it to yourself. Not tomorrow–today. As a leader, you are and will be called on to give a lot, to show up with stability and hope. Your bucket needs to stay as full as possible so that you can share the goods with others.

7. Develop market specific KPI’s. 

Some truly proactive leaders out there are not waiting passively to hear about market conditions that impact their business from others–they are going after it themselves. To be like them, look critically at your business and the markets you depend on. Develop a list of local/national/international KPI’s that your team can track to stay on top of rapid shifts in the market that can and will impact your biz. Assign individuals on the team to track specific metrics so that all are involved, and can be energized by being part of the solution. Get together frequently (2x/week in many cases) to share results and adapt your immediate strategy accordingly.

8. Surprise and delight. 

You’re at home. I’m at home. We’re all pretty much at home. What can you do to make someone’s day from afar? Door Dash them their favorite Starbucks? Order sandwiches for your team for your usual “lunch” meeting? Or perhaps it is in how you provide your service, or how you treat your customers. Peloton decided to offer up their online platform free for 90 days. My favorite local cafe included a free bottle of their world-famous (to me, anyways) paleo coffee creamer in our takeout bag last night. A leader shared about a vendor reaching out proactively to offer to defer payments to ease the cash burn at this time. Where can you and your business surprise, delight, and make a positive impact?

9. Establish consultation groups.

Let’s be frank: we can be proactive AND at the same time be swimming through waters we’ve never been in before. Successful leaders today are reaching out to their networks and establishing consultation groups. Peers are sharing with each other with a degree of openness never before seen. Ideas of what is working for one translate into helpful actions for another.  All experience the relief of being “with;” we really, truly, are not alone in these challenges. The leaders who initiate these groups or conversations are remembered for their proactivity. Bonds made here will last much longer than the novel virus.

10. Make contingency plans.

Leaders love to “know”–people come to us for answers.  The leaders we are speaking with are confronting the realities of not being able to “know” many of the big factors that will influence all of our businesses. How long will social distancing last? What stimulus will governments offer? How will that impact the economy? What will consumer behavior look like when the dust settles? Those who are leading with confidence and proactivity have been busy contingency planning. They have a plan B, C, and D–solutions to handle a variety of future possibilities. Having these contingencies thought out provides calm and stability and improves the likelihood of the business thriving throughout whatever may come. Where can you get in front of this with some creative, solution-focused contingency planning?

11. Design relevant resources for your workforce.

We love this one. We’ve had leaders tell us they are assessing the needs of their workforce, and getting proactive in designing resources to fit for them. Have a bunch of people on your team with young kids? Try sending out an email with worksheets and activities that can be done from home. Have a bunch of foodies on the team? Send recipes. Are your people complaining that it is really hard to stay active from home? Send workout ideas and resources. Make it personal. Make it useful.

12. Create a winning narrative. 

This time will not last forever. As stated previously, attitude is one of our most precious assets. Leaders who are thriving in this moment are creating narratives of resilience, compassion, stability, and hope. They are actively identifying the silver-linings, and sharing those with their teams. They are recalling previous tough times and openly recounting how they/the company got through it. They are telling a story that inspires hope, while remaining relentlessly honest with the reality of the circumstance. Trust is being built. They are attitude shapers, and thus, solution makers.

The opportunity to excel is within you.

There’s no denying the current climate is going to have major market impacts in the foreseeable future. Now is the time for thoughtful, strategic action–not reactivity. You have the opportunity, today, to BE the leader people can turn to in this time of need.  To write a story you will be proud to share with the next generation. This list of what’s working is a starting point–some inspiration to get you going. The opportunity to excel is within you.

So, what will you do today, to be the leader you’ll be most proud of tomorrow?

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About the Author

Ilana is the Founder and CEO of Werq, an executive and team performance coaching firm headquartered in Austin, TX, serving clients around the country and abroad.
Ilana ZivkovichAuthor
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