6 Leadership Principles To Guide You During Crisis

04/15/2020 06:00AM

When was there a time that wasn’t uncertain? 

The COVID-19 crisis has fueled what uncertainty means with fresh perspectives around readiness and preparedness. This moment has elevated the importance of leading with a crisis aware state of mind. Especially when you consider that we are headed into accelerated change and uncertainty that will remain constant with peaks and valleys of stability and predictability. What do I mean by this?

Personally, my journey as a C-suite executive and entrepreneur was front loaded with success. Then suddenly, I experienced unexpected circumstances and significant hardships as the powerful forces of envy, jealousy, selfishness, and control (amongst other dynamics) stepped in the way of my momentum.  It opened my mind and my eyes to the unpredictability’s of business when leaders lack self-trust, lack self-directedness and lack overall preparedness during uncertain times. 

While these early in career challenges were painful, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. The many lessons learned elevated my confidence to bounce back and the wisdom to understand why continuous personal and professional reinvention is crucial when faced with uncertainty. 

Leading in a crisis aware state of mind is about practicing the following six principles:

1. The Inspiration to See Opportunities in Everything

During crisis, leaders must see opportunities everywhere, every day and make the most of them. They must be open-minded enough to search within conversations and adverse circumstances for possibilities that will help better serve those they lead – beyond the obvious. For example, crisis demands respecting different points of view to broaden your observations and perspectives about the reality that is right in front of you – so you can see the glass half full, not half empty.

This is useful when:

  • Addressing blind spots by broadening perspectives
  • Overcoming skepticism and other obstacles
  • Helping people see what you see

2. The Flexibility to Anticipate the Unexpected

Leaders must get out in front of the crisis by practicing what I call, “circular vision:” the ability to see around, beneath and beyond what they seek.  For example, begin to explore employee engagement analytics. Who are those that you can rely on now and in the future? This is the time for leaders to navigate and begin to identify new opportunities within the organization (i.e. talent and capability requirements) to prepare for the future (i.e. serve the new unique needs of your customers and clients). 

This is useful when:

  • Operating in an environment of uncertainty that needs momentum
  • Wanting to re-set a strategy centered on seeing what’s possible to bounce forward
  • Preparing yourself to rebound after the crisis

3.  The Freedom to Unleash Our Passionate Pursuits

In times of crisis, leaders oftentimes don’t trust themselves enough to take the first steps and define their strategies for change, since this is the basis for heightened accountability. They would rather be held accountable to others’ expectations than their own. Those types of leaders lack passion; and it’s passion that puts you in exploration mode. And exploration mode is what will help leaders see and seize previously unseen obstacles within the crisis before circumstances force their hand. For example, crisis is the time to reflect and explore your own values as an individual. Are you being true to your beliefs? Are you learning more about the things that fuels your thinking and desire to act? Exploration mode allows you to reconnect with the foundational roots the define what you stand for and those things that propel you to act in more meaningful and purposeful ways. 

This is useful when:

  • Recognizing that you and your colleagues are feeling complacent and need to take ownership
  • Facing the fear of change and the need to embrace it
  • Prompting the curiosity of others to collectively detect patterns in search of pathways toward certainty

4.  The Room to Live with an Entrepreneurial Spirit

A leader doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial.  But during crisis, leaders must have an entrepreneurial attitude. They must think big and be bold enough to make a difference and have an impact when the moment calls. The entrepreneurial spirit is about connecting the dots that don’t yet exist.  For example, oftentimes when a crisis starts, we think we know how to best utilize resources. But when we are in the middle of the crisis, we realize that we have many more resources than we thought, and we instinctively begin to utilize them in ways that were not previously imagined. Our entrepreneurial spirit kicks-in as our capacity and capabilities as leaders and teams - take us to places we’ve never been before. We learn how to activate a whole new level of “strategic focus.” The entrepreneurial spirit is about creating momentum for people by ensuring that alignment with people’s unique needs are strong and that you are always introducing new ways of doing things.

This is useful when:

  • Striving to improve poor relationships and breaking down silos
  • Identifying new ways to evolve
  • Enabling the resilience that lies deep inside of us – that oftentimes remains dormant

5.  The Trust to Work with a Generous Purpose

Leadership during crisis is not about looking out for yourself – but more so about how to look out for the needs of others.  For example, it requires leaders to ask for “in-the-moment” feedback and to respect the ideas and ideals of others. Trust during crisis is earned when leaders are reliable and they act on their word. When they commit to the needs of others before their own. When leaders are wise enough to enable their emotional intelligence by being vulnerable, open and honest. A leader strengthens trust by breaking down barriers because they see the value in differences to forge bonds in relationships.

This is useful when:

  • Building a great culture or fixing a culture of inefficiency
  • Demonstrating the genuine desire to improve teamwork
  • Dealing with others’ shortsightedness

6.  The Respect to Lead to Leave a Legacy

Legacies are born during crisis. We discover the leaders that are most respected based on how well they reacted and responded to all the chaos and uncertainty around them. Leaders have a responsibility to uphold the heritage and traditions of the organizations they serve. But during times of crisis they must equally hold themselves accountable to build on those traditions to further strengthen the organization’s culture and the communities of people their serve. For example, crisis puts our culture to the test. For leaders, these are culture defining moments that either strengthens the culture for future legacies or awakens leaders to realize the importance of establishing a culture to ensure a legacy platform is in place for the future.  

This is useful when:

  • Creating engagement and building unity
  • Dealing with a lack of common purpose 
  • Preparing for a more turbulent world

For some leaders, these principles may be viewed as characteristics because they are natural tendencies. But for others, they may be interpreted as strategies because even if they’re not natural tendencies, leaders can be deliberate about using them to solve problems. Whether they are viewed as characteristics or strategies, they are interconnected and interdependent on each other. Their impact and influence grow and they build upon one another.

These six principles of what I call, The Innovation Mentality, gives us the state of mind to be “crisis aware” by preparing us to have greater clarity to see, anticipate, explore, optimize resources and people, build trust in one another, and value the importance of legacy. The Innovation Mentality helps us find the right rhythm to operationalize a crisis management mindset that is concurrently thinking and acting in ways to get out in front of the changing consequences of the crisis.

This crisis has made it clear that leadership has become and will continue to be highly personal. It will require leaders to create the conditions for their people and themselves to be more resilient, agile and courageous. Don’t ignore this new reality because if you do, you may become unfit for your current leadership role sooner than later. 

The magnitude of how personal this crisis is has awakened us to the realization that leadership is not about:

  • Power, but rather the privilege of allowing one’s influence to best serve others.
  • Responsibility alone, but rather taking ownership of a mission that goes well beyond one’s assigned duties.
  • Hierarchy or rank, but rather how one shows their human side in authentic ways that encourages others to do the same.

I get it. This sounds soft. But the reality is that people work harder for leaders who treat them as individuals – and who also represent themselves as individuals, too.   

People want to know what their leaders are thinking and feeling. This didn’t start with the crisis. This was an existing reality – it just took the crisis to make people aware of it. That’s why authenticity or the lack thereof from leaders will be remembered most from their employees. 

That’s what these six principles enable leaders to do. They are designed to build high-performance teams, leaders and cultures focused on developing resilient, agile and courageous individuals. This is what people demand from their leaders in today’s age of personalization.

***

This article was originally published on Forbes.com

The Leadership Pandemic Before COVID-19