In times of crisis, one of the most important roles of leadership is setting an example that shows others how to respond. In uncertain times people look up for guidance—they watch those in charge to see how to manage their anxiety and stay focused and motivated.
The secret to leading in such situations is staying mindful. Act in the awareness that you’re working to help those around you feel more comfortable in a difficult time. That means bringing the core principle of understanding to everything you do.
Here are some ways to bring understanding to your crisis leadership:
Be approachable and available. Understanding begins with letting those you lead know you’re in this with them, which means being present and available. Be generous in the time and attention you provide, and make sure you’re doing more listening than speaking. Give people space to express their anxiety, stress and fears. Remember that you don’t have to try to fix everything—help where you can, but stay within appropriate boundaries. What’s most important is your willingness to listen with empathy and presence.
Be sensitive to what other people are feeling. People have strong feelings in times of difficulty, and as their leader it’s your place to let them feel without trying to make it to be about you or the organization. Never negate anyone’s feelings by telling them “Don’t be anxious” (or scared or sad or whatever they’re feeling). Empathize and, if you can, point them toward resources or information that may be helpful. Be sensitive not only to the feelings people are expressing but also to those they’re silent about.
Be flexible but grounded. To be understanding is to make the changes that might be needed or helpful in response to shifting circumstances while maintaining the stability people hold on to in difficult times. You need to find the balance between being flexible and adaptable on the one hand and strong and grounded on the other.
Be determined and showcase perseverance. To be understanding of others you first need to know about yourself. Tap into your own determination and motivation. Think about ways you’ve persevered in the past, and share those experiences with others. In this as in all things, your example is your most powerful leadership tool. Show them how it’s done through your own actions and by sharing your stories and those of people you admire.
Leading people through uncomfortable times is never easy, but it’s part of every leader’s responsibility to help them become as comfortable as possible. And that’s done by being approachable, available, strong and adaptable, and by remembering that the people you’re leading may not have been through a significant trial before this.
Lead from within: If you can help others be comfortable being uncomfortable, they’ll be prepared to handle whatever situation comes along.