A PESA webinar with Envision Group International shared best practices on leading through adversity to support executives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Envision’s expert team touched on an array of topics including the importance of communication, follow-through, dealing with stress and critical behaviors of effective leaders.
In this uncertain time, it is imperative that leaders maintain communication with team members, Envision presenters told attendees. In addition to regular phone calls, leaders should incorporate video calls so they can evaluate a team member’s physical appearance and body language, which can provide critical information on mental and emotional state during a crisis.
Leaders must also follow through with commitments. If a manager promises to do something, it’s essential they complete the task to maintain credibility with employees. Failing to do so could undermine trust and confidence during a stressful time.
Leaders need to plan to help their team be resilient during a crisis. This includes physical care such as sleep, hydration, nourishment and exercise; psychological wellbeing including confidence, focus, perspective and acceptance of the situation; emotional health through focus, awareness and pausing to provide thoughtful responses, and maintaining a supportive community. Team members should display kindness, compassion, empathy and feel comfortable asking for help when needed. Leaders should also pay close attention to their own resilience, because they can’t take care of their employees if they are not taking care of themselves.
Few companies have policies to handle a pandemic. Leaders should know who on their team can handle stressful situations and position these individuals in roles where they can help leadership, fellow employees and those affect by making good decisions based on sound judgement. A key qualification for these individuals is the ability to think quickly and be willing to adapt when events move beyond the strategy.
To reinforce this point, Hugh Dunleavy, Partner, Envision Group cited an old military adage, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
FOUR BEHAVIORS FOR LEADERSHIP
Leadership in a time of crisis requires four behaviors, according to Pat Lipovski, President of Envision Group. First, people come first. To get the best out of employees, they must feel their leader cares about them and their needs, fears and health.
Second, a leader must be able to articulate a vision for the end of the crisis. Now is the time to start visualizing the route your team must cross, and in what order, to successfully reach the other side. Solicit employee feedback so they have a sense of control regarding the situation at hand and the future.
Next, the leader must encourage and empower others so that everyone can do their part. The management team must lead. They must not overreact to the developments of the day, and they must communicate optimism. Senior executives will need to delegate some responsibilities to team members.
Lastly, emotions must be acknowledged. Leaders need to communicate with those affected that they have a plan. They must show empathy and compassion, and allow feelings to be shared even if they are negative. The victims of a crisis often feel a need to blame and accepting their frustrations is part of the process.
LIVING ABOVE THE LINE
A top priority is dealing with the human element of an adverse situation. There will be both personal and professional challenges that people experience during a crisis and these circles of emotion will intersect. Leaders must listen to that emotion, withhold judgment and accept their perspective. This leads to empathy.
Leaders must also demonstrate empathy by encouraging de-escalation of emotions when appropriate. This requires living above the line – a choice between how one thoughtfully responds to a situation or automatically reacts. Operating above the line is open and positive. It’s about ownership, accountability and responsibility. Operating below the line is closed and negative. It’s about denial, excuses, defensiveness and blame. Ultimately, a leader will wear many hats during a crisis.
The Envision team offered several tips to help leaders successfully navigate adversity:
- Verify data. Wrong information can ruin goodwill that’s been achieved.
- When people are involved, mistakes will happen. Include caveats in your messaging.
- Know and understand the stakeholders. Messaging to these groups can be different, but the messaging must be aligned.
- Consider your strategy, how it will be impacted and what changes will be permanent and temporary. Remember that adversity and mistakes in times of crises allow for innovation.
The group delved into a strategic planning model in which they outlined three key areas needed to be successful:
- Structure: The blueprint of how the different parts of your strategy will fit together
- Framework: strategic frameworks that help you add depth and insight into your strategy
- Accountability: Meetings, reports and data that will keep your strategy moving on.
The session closed with a summary of tips to lead through change:
- Take care of your people by showing you care for them personally and inspiring their confidence in your ability to lead.
- Data gathering and identifying good versus bad data.
- Acknowledge that when people get involved mistakes happen so put caveats in your messaging.
- Formulate a plan of action knowing fully that it will need continuous adjustment.
- Always be aware of your external stakeholders and plan how to engage them.
- Develop a communications plan daily not only for stakeholders but for media staff and customers.
- Keep an eye on public relations and brand management to maintain good external optics.
- Ascertain the importance of social media to your company and its role in your public relations and brand management.
- Keep an eye on logistics and maintaining operations which is the foundation for everything else.
- Lead your company back to “normal business” by developing plans for tomorrow, next week, next month and next quarter.