Executive Education

How to lead well in a time of crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt today’s leaders a hand unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. This crisis has left Directors, CEOs and managers and wondering what their personal approach should be? What should we do in this ‘new normal’ that’s been suddenly thrust upon us?

The answer is that we should be the experts at leading well.

What does this mean? It means that this is your time. It’s your time to apply the skills that you’ve learnt – those totally misnamed ‘soft skills’ that aren’t actually soft at all but are extremely ‘hard’. These are the skills that you’ve been honing, working on, reading about, watching YouTube clips about and practising. In your time as a leader you haven’t always got things right, but you’ve done your best and you’ve bounced back each time. Now is your time to bring all of these skills together.

Here are the five things that a leader should do to lead well during this crisis:

Show vulnerability. We face an extraordinary, once in a generation (at least!) situation that is impacting everyone, personally and professionally. As leaders, no one expects us to be superheroes. We have lives and families too, and we’re in the same boat right now as our staff. It’s important to share our stresses and worries as this helps to normalise the fears and concerns that our team are currently experiencing.

Communicate regularly. This is absolutely crucial, especially when staff are working from home or aren’t always in the normal office environment. It’s up to you to set up these communication lines and to walk the talk by ensuring that you are always on the calls, replying to messages and sending emails. Don’t go missing – ensure that you are very visible.

Delegate. The sheer number of decisions that leaders need to make right now is incredibly daunting. The very best thing you can do is to share the decision-making load. Involve others in the decisions that need to be made, seek opinion and advice, call out for different views so that you can weigh up the pros and cons of things you are considering. At the Institute of Manager and Leaders, we decided to move staff to a working from home model very early in the COVID-19 outbreak. This decision was a leadership team decision that came about after much discussion and consultation. As the leader, you must facilitate the decision-making process, not make all the decisions yourself.

Notice things. Establish ways for you to know what is happening in your business and amongst your staff. Mental health is likely to be significantly impacted, and you need to be checking in and making suggestions to assist any impacted staff. You’re not expected to be a counsellor or a psychologist. That is best left to the professionals. But you must have your finger on the pulse of your team so that you can point people who need assistance or advice to the correct resources. Contact people regularly and to ask direct questions, such as; Are you OK? Are you feeling lonely or isolated? Are you struggling with anything right now?

Empower your people. One size doesn’t fit all, and the current pandemic will impact different people in your team in different ways. Recognise this and allow people to make the right decision for themselves and their families. What makes you comfortable as a leader might make others feel very stressed. It’s time to apply all the emotional intelligence you can muster.


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David Pich
David Pich is the co-author of Leading Well: 7 attributes of very successful leaders and the Chief Executive of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ). David's leadership career spans a range of senior executive roles in sales, marketing, PR and consulting for a number of global companies and in the not-for-profit sector. David advocates passionately for sound management and leadership practice and strongly believes that good leaders have an impact well beyond the workplace. David Pich is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.