5 Principles to Ethical Leadership in Times of Crisis

What you need to know to steer people through tough times

Leaders are, by definition, role models, and employees naturally follow their lead. This is particularly true in times of crisis. Here are five key principles leaders must keep in mind if they are to successfully lead their organizations through tough times.

1. Transparency: Transparency is the best prevention against panic and rumors. Leaders must recognize a crisis is in the making and quickly persuade others that attention and action are needed. Such transparency is essential to building trust and to rallying support for what are likely to be difficult decisions and actions. Transparency also means keeping people informed and updated regularly with facts, actions taken, risks, and progress. Answering questions is also critical and leaders should be honest when they don’t know the answer and be sure to try to find out as soon as possible and follow up. 

2. Consistency: Consistency in words and tone are critical to maintain trust and confidence. This does not mean withholding new information, but rather, letting people of the availability of new updates or data. Consistency in tone is also critical, since people don’t just listen to words, but also body language. Leaders also need to make sure their next in line direct reports are consistent. Providing them talking points and keeping them up-to-date will help create consistent messaging. 

3. Accountability: Accountability means answerability and leaders own results—good and bad. Give credit when things go well and don’t point fingers when they do not. When mistakes are made, admit that they’ve been made and approach them as an opportunity to learn and improve. Some leaders fear admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. When leaders admit mistakes, other employees will have the courage to do the same as the earlier we can catch errors and redirect, the more effective we will be at changing course. Leaders do have to hold others accountable, but this does not mean blaming them or berating them. It means setting clear expectations, following up, and acting when appropriate. 

4. Empathy: Transparency appeals primarily to people’s minds and information is a powerful antidote to panic. Crises typically create chaos, confusion, stress, and fear while empathy appeals to hearts. Acknowledge what people are feeling and let them know you care.  However, don’t be afraid to admit you have similar feelings—just don’t dwell on them. This is NOT about you, but them and you need to present strength along with that vulnerability. 

5. Resiliency: Finally, leaders need to demonstrate strength and courage, especially in tough times. Resilient leaders recover quickly and see failure as a temporary setback. They keep the team focused on how to move forward and on the opportunities the crisis presents rather than the challenges or losses. Resilience also helps leaders maintain self-control. 

Few situations test a leader more than a crisis, regardless of the cause. Keeping in mind the role you play and the powerful influence you have on every person in your organization will help you steer people through tough times. 

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