How to Lead With Strength and Wisdom in Times of Crisis

Measured judgment, clarity, and courage can help support you and your team.

Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock
Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock

In these challenging times, strong leadership has never been more valuable. The current coronavirus pandemic presents an important opportunity for managers. Staying calm and focused is key, as is retaining strong connections with your teammates, and using measured judgment rather than resorting to rushed decisions made from a place of stress. Of course, that can be challenging as you respond to the pressures everyone is confronting during the pandemic — but it’s absolutely possible.

We’re all navigating unfamiliar territory, says Nancy Koehn, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in The Harvard Business Review. “Strong leaders get comfortable with widespread ambiguity and chaos, recognizing that they do not have a crisis playbook.” Instead, Koehn, who has studied how great leaders from FDR to Winston Churchill  have responded to crises of epic proportions, says they “commit to navigating point-to-point through the turbulence, adjusting, improvising, and re-directing as the situation changes and new information emerges.” In other words, flexibility is a key part of good leadership.

What’s also essential for leaders is avoiding burnout, Koehn says — being thoughtful about your time rather than attempting to power through the week, reacting constantly to every problem that arises. To do that effectively, focus on taking care of yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally, while encouraging your team to do the same.  

Here are three more ways to stay centered, focused, and clear as a leader.

When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that what is expected of leaders is judgment, not sheer stamina.

In times of deep uncertainty, leaders often think they need to be always on and accept a state of burnout. But to be able to see the icebergs ahead, they need to find a way to get themselves into the metaphorical eye of the hurricane — that centered place of strength, wisdom and peace which we all have inside ourselves.

When you are feeling stressed, collaborate with colleagues. 

A great deal is expected of leaders just now, but nobody expects you to have all the answers. Collaboration is key. Discussing and exchanging ideas with peers and team members can lead to innovative options you may not have previously considered. Researchers at Stanford University found that collaborating with other creative minds can also result in increased motivation. 

Take a quick break

Take a brief moment to step away from the computer and your phone to do something for you — whether that’s a quick stretch, a walk in the fresh air, or make a healthy lunch. Studies show that too much time on devices may have a detrimental impact on cognition. Time away from technology, and your responsibilities at work, will help you to recharge so that you return to your desk with more energy and a fresh perspective. 

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