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10 Tips for Executive Leadership Teams: Leading Through Crisis Together

Organizational flux, personal concerns and mass uncertainty about the future of work and business all contribute to a uniquely challenging situation for executive leadership teams. Social isolation exacerbates the situation and can lead to a “hunker down” mentality that poses leadership challenges and disrupts normal recovery resources. More than ever, CEOs and their senior leaders must be agile and aligned. Following are 10 tips for executive leadership teams to guide their organizations and people through this crisis:

  1. Set up a daily meeting. In acute crisis mode, teams are in rapid risk assessment and response. To minimize misinformation and support proactivity, poise and pace, executive leadership teams (ELTs) should move to a standing daily meeting. Meetings should focus on surfacing risks and needs, identifying actions and aligning on communications.
  2. Signal a conscious shift into a different team operating mode. Effective teams will have a set cadence for how they operate which includes rhythms for how they collaborate, align and decide together. Even the most high-performing teams can devolve quickly if they don’t have a deliberate shift in how they work together towards their new purpose.
  3. Align on the newly formed key priorities. Crises of high magnitude will shift business strategy and plans quickly, forcing the organizational purpose to shift accordingly and include clearly outlined priorities and goals. ELTs that anchor their work, their communications and their organization in these new points of focus will fare significantly better than ones that don’t.
  4. Be clear on decision responsibilities. Similar to the way first responders function, be sure to have clear points of accountability and ownership on key areas. Watch out for assumptions based on ‘business as usual’ roles—accountabilities usually shift in a crisis and require new delineations.
  5. Leave space for the team to support each other. Leadership is often a lonely place. Each leader on the ELT will be harboring his or her own worries and fears, in addition to those of the entire organization. Ensure that each team member has the psychological safety they need to share, unload and process concerns so they can be an authentic and poised leader. Lastly, lead by example and share your own thoughts, concerns, and hopes with the team.

  6. Be generous with each other. Crises bring out stress behaviors in everyone, including in senior leaders. Some individuals naturally rise to the challenge of a crisis and better leverage their resilience behaviors, while others are more easily derailed. Recognize that the range of responses is normal and find ways to learn from each other. Offer support when teammates’ edges come out. Give people permission to sit out a leg of the race if they are feeling too depleted. Similarly, observe individuals who appear to be managing well—to check what support they need as it may be less obvious. Also, ask them to share their positive strategies with others.
  7. Communicate often. Ambiguity is an accelerant to anxiety, and anxiety is highly contagious. Its best remedy is clarity and transparency. Even if the ELT doesn’t have answers to all or even most questions, sharing a daily communication about what decisions have been made, which questions are under consideration and what resources are available will help keep anxiety in check so the organization can focus on the hard work ahead.
  8. Create communities. Don’t miss opportunities to create strong groups of support in your personal and professional circles. Some ideas while working remotely include hosting virtual happy hours or inviting team members to participate in a working breakfast or lunch, depending on their time zone.
  9. Resist temptation to solve every problem and focus. It will feel like there are endless, daily fires to fight. Be clear on what core issues the ELT should focus on. Decision and crisis fatigue will inevitably set in. Remember the impact of chronic stress on the brain and body. Refocusing people on what is most important will help to stave off these fatigue factors and optimize the ELT’s effectiveness.
  10. Document learnings in real-time. Crisis necessitates operating in action mode. Observations and ideas regarding what we missed, what we could have done better and how we prepare next time will inevitably emerge. Designate a team member to capture these learnings for future use.

By remaining agile and aligned, playing to each person’s strengths and providing a psychologically safe environment for leaders to process their concerns, ELTs can effectively respond to disruption and lead through crisis together.

Written Rosanna Trasatti. Have you read?

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Rosanna Trasatti
Rosanna Trasatti is a Managing Director of YSC Consulting and Global Head of the firm’s Private Equity Practice. YSC Consulting is the world’s premier independent provider of leadership strategy services, helping organizations understand if they have the leadership they need for success and working with them to get there. Rosanna works exclusively with boards and C-suite leaders of PE firms helping them and their portfolio companies move from investment thesis to a leadership strategy that accelerates value creation. Rosanna Trasatti is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.