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How to Lead in Crisis

Why do people follow you?  It’s a question today’s leaders are pondering frequently as they strive to support their organizations in an environment where none of us know precisely what the “new normal” is going to look like for our industries, our employees and the next generation of talent entering the workforce.  That said, there’s […]

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Why do people follow you? 

It’s a question today’s leaders are pondering frequently as they strive to support their organizations in an environment where none of us know precisely what the “new normal” is going to look like for our industries, our employees and the next generation of talent entering the workforce. 

That said, there’s one simple fact that emerges when leading in a crisis.

None of us are going to get through this alone.

We all know that, in business, the tone comes from the top.  As priorities shift from competition to collaboration across industries, leaders focused on helping their firms respond effectively to today’s uncertainty and disruption realize how vital it is to make the shift from a “Self-help” mindset to an “Us-help” mindset at all levels.

What does this mean in practice?

It means that, when grappling with unexpected change and disruption, it’s vital for leaders to set a tone that emphasizes that people matter – not just in theory, but in the moment to moment behavior that leaders demonstrate in their relationship with themselves, with others and with organizations. 

Every leader pays lip service to the concept that people matter.  That said, in the midst of chaos, it’s not just about what we say.  It’s about what we do.

Let’s take a look at three important ways leaders who embrace the “Us-help” mindset under pressure to communicate their commitment to the value of people at all levels.

  1. Be Mindful of Your Relationship with Yourself: 

It there’s one thing that every leader longs for under pressure, it’s more hours in a day.  That said, if there’s one person you want to take the time to connect with thoughtfully, it’s yourself.  How do you talk to yourself under pressure?  Do you validate yourself when you make a mistake, or does a harsh voice start barking orders in your head?  What do you do to honor yourself for a job well done?  How much quality time do you spend with yourself, and how do you spend it?

Why does this matter?

Because our employees aren’t just looking at the formal requirements we set for them when the stakes are high.  They are tuned in to the informal nuances of the type of behavior that actually gets rewarded.  When leaders dart around anxiously, make snap judgements and push themselves to the brink of burnout under pressure, their employees will follow suit.  By training yourself to pause under pressure, respond with patience and give everyone the benefit of the doubt – including yourself – you will be modeling a culture that can go the distance as the new normal unfolds.

  • Focus on how others feel about themselves in your presence:

It takes discipline to stay focused on the present moment – particularly when tension is mounting.  Cultivating this discipline is worth it.

Bear in mind that nuances such as your vocal tone, the pace of your conversation and your expression may be conveying as much to people on your team as your actual words.  You want your employees focused on their job responsibilities, their customers and the future of your firm.  To make this happen, it’s important to consider how people feel about themselves after interacting with you.  Do they feel validated and supported?  If so, they are likely to be more productive in the course of their day.  Do they feel anxious and like, no matter how hard they try, they can never do enough?  If that’s the case, they may be pondering a career change at just the moment you hope they will be touching base with a key client on your behalf.

  • Remember that not all resources are financial:

In our current economic climate, we all agree that resources matter.  That said, people operating with the Self-help mindset are usually focused on resources that can be easily quantified, monetized and physically inventoried.  People who shift to the Us-help mindset realize that, while money matters, some of our most precious resources such as loyalty, motivation and courage are tougher to quantify – but they are also priceless.  As a result, leaders who embrace the Us-help approach take personal responsibility for maintaining a tone of unity that enhances any culture they support.

Why do people follow you?  Do you inspire them?  Do they fear you?  Do they believe in what your firm stands for?  Is it just a paycheck?

As the “new normal” comes into focus, you want your firm to be in the flow of positive and productive opportunities.  You want to forge business alliances that are sustainable – not transitory and transactional.  You want to foster a culture that attracts and retains positive, productive and innovative talent. 

Leaders who embrace the Us-help mindset align their goals with a vision of success wide enough to embrace both the individual fulfillment of their employees and the greater good of others.

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