This is the second post in a three-part series. (See the first: Lesson #1 of Leading through a Crisis: Be Human and third post: Lesson #3 of Leading through a Crisis: Be Creative.)
Leading during normal times is challenging enough. Throw in a world-wide crisis and the stress to be effective and do what is right increases exponentially. People depend on their leader to take the necessary actions that are quick but thoughtful and strategic.
When our world turned topsy-turvy on us back in mid-March, it left us all scrambling to get our footing and gain some type of orientation, both personally and professionally. As is true during any perilous time, we lean on those around us to provide guidance, clarity, and assurance. Our friends and families are our support network at home and while at work, we need to prioritize being that for each other.
While I would argue these leadership lessons hold true in any situation, Patrick Lencioni (3 Thoughts for Leaders In a Perilous Time) offers three simple rules especially important for leading during perilous times:
- Be human.
- Be persistent.
- Be creative.
Navigating the stormy waters of a crisis takes enormous resilience and perseverance. People will look to their leader for guidance and reassurance, so a crisis is not the time to hold back. Whether it is clarifying priorities, sharing the most up-to-date information, or processing personal emotions, a leader’s willingness and ability to be present is a huge indicator of how well a team will be able to maneuver through the obstacles.
How does a leader “be persistent?” Here are some ideas on how you might follow this simple rule:
We all know the mantra “When everything is important, nothing is important,” and it is an absolute necessity during a time of crisis that, as a team, we are crystal clear on what we all need to rally around and work towards. To help decide on and clarify your rally cry, reflect on these questions:
- If we were to only accomplish one thing in the next 3-6 months, what would it be?
- How is this focused priority different from 6 months ago?
- To what overarching theme can and should we all contribute?
Issues are coming at us at an alarming pace and we must help our team fight off distractions that are draining and unimportant. Additionally, people desperately want to contribute to something meaningful and a rally cry is an overall goal that allows all to do this.
Our rally cry last Spring: CONNECT & CARE: We will ensure that we maintain connections with all of our students and help to meet their physical and social-emotional needs.
Our current rally cry: WELLNESS: We will create an environment that prioritizes the wellness of our students and staff.
A rally cry focuses and energizes a team by breaking down silos and synergizing efforts.
Strengthen Core Values
The one thing about a crisis is that no one, or no team, remains unchanged. The only choice we have is whether or not we will come out the other end better off. Times of uncertainty highlight our strengths and spotlight our weaknesses and a collective commitment to core values is a necessity in order to be able to take advantage of the former.
Leaders can be intentional about seeing this change as an opportunity to bring a team together around its core values. (If you’re curious about how to define values that are meaningful, see Sticky Core Values.) Bringing your core values to the forefront can serve as a call to action, a chance to practice those values, and become a steady compass, guiding you along a path riddled with sneaky forks in the road.
The only strategy making an appearance in all three lessons, the need for communication during a crisis cannot be overstated. When there is a lack of information, people fill in the gaps and make up their own stories. Those stories are almost always a toxic spiral into doom and gloom.
Being persistent with communications looks like a combination of an increase in frequency and a relentless repetition of what is important. Leaders take on the role of “Chief Reminding Officer,” by repeating what is important and relevant, to the point of feeling repetitive and boring. Think you don’t have anything new to share? Say just that. Think you’ve already talked about your rally cry? Discuss it again. Your team members are never going to say, “Gosh, I just hear too much about what’s going on,” and being in the know and creating clarity is the best reassurance we, as leaders, can give.
As this crisis separated us physically, our need for strong processes, or how we do things, increased. Having efficient, collaborative methods for doing business is essential when the ground feels shaky.
Some of the systems we created:
- A shared Google Sheet tracking our rally cry that allowed us to quickly collaborate on who we’d been connecting with and rally around any unmet needs.
- A Google Slide for how we were collaborating during our staff work days to close out the school year. This TM Leader resource was a way to help us be clear about how we were going to knock out some of the end-of-the-year things we needed to accomplish, remind us all when we needed to be where and what we needed to bring, while also allowing for choice and differentiation.
- We quickly realized we needed a system to address questions (a digital “parking lot”) and a way to house updates. We created a shared Google sheet with a tab for questions and another for resources. To compile updates, we created a shared Google Doc, communicating the most recent information at the top, so our team could access the latest information quickly.
- Most recently, with all of the health tracking, we’ve created a clear process for screening staff or student health issues. Although this process (which again includes a shared Google Sheet) directly gets input from various front office personnel, we’ve communicated to the entire staff about how this process works so they know how to support this effort.
Effectiveness Over Efficiency
When the clock rolls around to 8:00 and the meeting begins, how do you define “getting down to business?” If you’re like many leaders, it means that the first topic is a logistical item that could be found on most meeting agendas. This could lead to a common misconception that mistakes efficiency (doing things right) for effectiveness (doing the right things.)
To effectively lead during a time of crisis, you need to make time for connecting and checking in on people. It becomes a matter of “slow down to go fast,” because we all need time to process all that is happening. This will seem to eat up precious time, but if you don’t intentionally do this, your people and your team will suffer.
In addition to the ways we check in (see “Check In & Connect within Lesson #1 of Leading through a Crisis: Be Human), we’ve also found these questions starters effective: Lunch Convo Starters. (We’d originally created these and left them on the tables in our teacher’s lounge.)
When creating agendas for meetings, large or one-on-one, make sure to build time for relationship-building. Your team will need this now more than ever.
Being a leader who both models and nurtures resilience and perseverance is difficult but necessary. There is danger in people feeling isolated during challenging times and persistence is a leadership antidote to this.
How do you add persistence into your leadership? Together we are brilliant, so I’d love to connect! Tweet and tag me (@me1odystacy) or feel free to start a conversation by commenting below.