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4 Tips for Effective Leadership During a Crisis

Jared Atchison
Jared Atchison
Co-Founder at WPForms

In order to be a great leader, you need to be able to motivate your team when times are tough.

The weight of responsibility has rarely been heavier on leadership than it is right now. With the global economy coping with the effects of the pandemic, we're seeing businesses and individuals alike shift to new ways of working. 

As leaders, your role becomes more demanding as you try to keep things together as well as get ready for a future where work is carried out differently. 

With a challenge like this, it's helpful to have some guidelines to reflect on as you manage everyday operations. Here are some key tips to keep in mind to lead more effectively during a crisis. 

Show appreciation

It's always important to show appreciation to your co-workers and employees. And continuing, even increasing, your gestures of support and recognition will play an important role in boosting morale. 

It's helpful to know that only 21% of people feel strongly valued at their workplace. And that as many as 79% of people say that a lack of appreciation is why they left a good job. This makes showing appreciation more important than ever. 

So, what are some ways that you can show appreciation during a trying time? At my workplace, we make it possible for appreciation and recognition to flow from peer-to-peer, meaning that anyone can share positive feedback with others in a public space.

We have a Slack channel called "cheers-for-peers" that's dedicated to recognizing good work done by employees. Leaders and employees can share their appreciation for any reason. This helps us make the process of recognizing others practical. It's also visible across the organization, making it a powerful morale booster. 

During a crisis situation, it is heartening to reach out to your team and to explicitly state your appreciation for what they do. This will keep people motivated and help them feel more self-assured. 

Set up clear priorities

One of the hallmark challenges that appear in times of crisis is the lack of direction. Multiple problems arise at once: supply chains get disrupted, your customers’ financial statuses change, and morale at work wavers. It's a matter of keeping several balls in the air but even the best jugglers have to drop the ball sometime. 

Instead of trying to manage too many things, set up priorities. For example, when local retail businesses with just physical locations were impacted by the lockdown, they would have had to prioritize safety measures, starting their online e-commerce stores, and communicating with customers. 

Creating a set of priorities in black and white gives direction and also keeps morale up. It's important to recognize that this means that you'll have to give less attention to aspects of your business or to neglect them altogether. But creating priorities ensures that you keep running in the present so that you can build your business to its fullest potential later. 

One of the things that you need to continue prioritizing is your marketing. The world has faced global crisis situations before such as the recessions of 2009 and 1990. History shows that businesses that chose to be silent during these times can lose their visibility and market share. 

McDonald’s lost a significant part of its market share to Taco Bell and Pizza Hut when it reduced its marketing in the 90s. While in 2009, Amazon launched Kindle and saw its sales increase by 28%. 

Keep growth in mind and you'll set priorities that don't just get you through hurdles but also lead to better performance in the future. 

Create communication strategies 

It's self-evident that, as a leader, you need to communicate in an effective manner to keep different stakeholders informed. 

Let's look at a few specific ways you can improve communication during times of crisis. 

Identify key stakeholders

Communication takes place across multiple channels to reach different stakeholders. Before you can communicate well, you need to identify who your major stakeholders are and prioritize them. Your stakeholders include employees, customers, suppliers, partners, creditors, and anyone else impacted by your business’s functioning. 

Keeping your stakeholders in mind will help you decide what information needs to be shared and how to share it. 

Share regular updates

Crisis situations are times where you need to be proactive with communication. Too little can be much worse than too much. Be forthcoming and don't wait for questions to come to you. Here are some ways to update  your different stakeholders:

  • Update your social media profiles to let customers know whether you’re operating. Set store timings, holiday dates, your current capacity, and other details. Google's My Business listing enables you to add relevant metadata. And you should "pin" specific posts about your business's functioning to the top of your social media feeds

  • Send regular email newsletters that are concise but informative to existing customers letting them know about your current status. Remember to ask them to reach out to you for further information

  • Within your organization, hold monthly "townhalls" to answer questions and share general company updates. It's also important to share important announcements in your company-wide channels on Slack

Reach out to the community

Just as your business may struggle during times of crisis, so do your customers and general audience face difficulties. Since you become successful only when your customers thrive, it's important to offer support to them and your community in any way possible. 

For example, creating a blog post that provides resources to address COVID-related issues to your customers is a powerful way to help. It's also a gesture that will be appreciated when people are looking for relevant information.

Look for ways to help your audience in a way that’s relevant to what you do. Compiling resources or offering solutions will build goodwill and stronger relationships.

Embrace "servant" leadership

So far, we've acknowledged that challenging situations are times when leaders need to rise to the occasion. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean taking on sole control over all decisions or activities or assuming a strong-willed manner, especially when dealing with internal stakeholders like your employees. 

A style of leadership known as "servant" leadership may be the right way to go. In spite of the common meaning of the label servant, this is not a servile or passive role. We often see servant leadership in communities, our own homes, and in other types of social groups where harmony and stability exist because of quiet leaders guiding members through support and kindness. 

What's a practical way to apply servant leadership? Listen. Pay attention to ideas and pain points from within and outside your organization. Using employee feedback channels, customer survey forms, and other means of communication will allow you to listen to people and then take their feedback into consideration.

It's important to tap into qualities like empathy, humility, and patience in dealing with people. These qualities that form the core of servant leadership are needed during difficult times and will impact your business’s environment and how it interacts with customers.

Crisis situations test a leader's mettle, making it essential for you to tap into inner resources such as resilience. You also need to take action while considering the impact of your decisions on your business, employees, and the community,

In this post, we've outlined some tips that can help you become a more effective leader during difficult times. Work with these tips and apply some of your own intuition to connect with different stakeholders well. As we collectively get through a crisis, we'll learn important leadership lessons, and perhaps transform the way we do business as a whole - doing better for the company, community, and the world at large. 

Image Credit: fizkes/Getty Images
Jared Atchison
Jared Atchison
business.com Member
See Jared Atchison's Profile
Co-Founder of WPForms, one of the largest WordPress contact form plugins in the market. I have been programming for over a decade and enjoy creating plugins that help people create powerful web designs without touching code.