For a manager, navigating through a crisis can be one of the most challenging situations a leader can face. On the other hand, the most rewarding part of being a manager is the relationships built with team members. We can be part of each other’s lives in an extraordinary way. Weddings, births, graduations, and milestones in our personal and professional lives are shared that give us common ground and are a great equalizer. Since I have been a manager for outside representatives for eleven years now, I call it the “privilege of being in the passenger seat.” The conversations that occur during field visits/ride alongs often lead to meaningful discussions that have very little to with business but rather the interpersonal dynamics of life that make us human.
The milestones that are celebrated come with the ones of crisis. Deaths, divorces, problems with children, illness. The difficult times in life. Crisis does not care if you have a job to do, a sales meeting to go to, customer visits, or travel. A crisis is not discriminatory and happens to us all during our lives, and there is never a good time for one.
With the onset of COVID, many managers and people in leadership positions were perplexed about handling this situation. This is an epidemic that none of us have seen in our lifetime. Fear and insecurity have become the most common feelings during this time, coupled with the fact that many of us must work in the face of these emotions. Whether having COVID themselves, a friend or family member or just being part of the human race, we all have been affected.
Also, during this crisis, as leaders, many of us have been part of or have had to make tough decisions for the ultimate survival of our respective companies. Very few people have been unaffected, causing us to go through very hard times personally and professionally. Ultimately, helping to support our team members through navigating these times with resilience and courage. To be in a leadership position is an honor, one which not everyone can do. However, during times of crisis is when authentic leadership emerges. Selflessness and a common purpose shared by the below actions of communication, tone, and compassion are essential to demonstrate during any time of crisis:
Communication: With any relationship in life, communication is vital. Zoom has been a mechanism where we have seen one another, our facial expressions, and emotions. More is better regarding contact during this time. Calls and emails can always be tapered off. Just communicate daily with your team. Even if it is asking if they are ok, what is going on in their lives, or send out an email with a positive quote or something inspirational. People want and need to be supported, so whatever you can do to uplift your team and show you are in it with them, they will appreciate it.
Tone: Not one of us has not been touched by this epidemic somehow and at various levels of severity. The manner and words that leaders use during times of crisis are more meaningful than we can imagine. For example, Winston Churchill kept the people of England full of spirit and vigor during World War II, when their homes and neighborhoods were getting bombed. In the direst circumstance possible. Under his leadership, people said they felt inspired even in these dire times due to the words, tone, and way Churchill spoke. Comments should be chosen carefully, with diligent detail to the meaning that they carry. Be authentic and acknowledge that this is a time of uncertainty; it is scary, stifling, and isolating. However, do not be afraid to pronounce your purpose, mission, and value that you all bring in your positions. At the very least, verbalize to your team that you are there to support, guide, and be the best leader that you can during this time.
Compassion: Empathy is often developed in life going through tough times and our crisis’. Remember that everyone handles difficult and emotional situations differently. Similar to the fact that we all react as leaders in times of crisis in our unique way. Compassion, empathy, and sincerity will not make you weak. Your team members will never fully support you as a leader until they genuinely feel and believe that you care about them. That your job is not about a title, salary, or recognition. It is about getting up every day and supporting them to your best ability.
If there is ever a time to show your support to your team members, it is now.
Leadership did not pick you; you picked a leadership position. It can feel like a curse sometimes and a headache. However, those times are few compared to knowing we can help our team members navigate crisis, not just professionally but personally. Not superficially, but in a way in which it is a call to action to not only get through this together but as a united team.
Their confidence in you will be heightened as you will show them that they have a manager who has demonstrated that humanity, compassion, and empathy are the foundation of your leadership. They will know it is about them as human beings and not about the bottom line. In turn, this will bring culture and a shift on your team that you may not have known possible.