As crises big and small peppered our daily lives in 2020, the past 12 months have been a clear lens through which to view the crisis management skills (and sometimes lack thereof) of folks from all cross-sections of society.
Crisis management skills are often overlooked until a crisis is upon us. Luckily, crisis management skills are leadership skills, applied in unusual, often stressful situations.
Crisis Management vs. Crisis Leadership?
We tend to look at leadership and management as being two different things when, in fact, management is just one aspect of leadership—under leadership’s broad umbrella. Similarly, crisis management is yet another aspect of leadership. There’s not “regular” leadership and “crisis” leadership; it’s all just leadership.
So, the very same leadership skills that allow you to flourish during “normal” times will help you through a crisis. And that’s a good thing, because crises interrupt our “normal” times—often, but not always—with little or no warning.
During a crisis, emotions run high and they aren’t usually positive emotions. People involved in or affected by the crisis may be scared, upset, confused or angry. An emotionally intelligent leader is better able to manage their own emotions and those of others. The leader will know how to acknowledge feelings without adding fuel to the emotional fire and calm people without coming across as dismissive of their feelings.
Crises are emotionally challenging and you must often make decisions quickly and with a dearth of information. Emotional Intelligence helps leaders to ensure their actions, reactions and decisions are rational according to the information they have and not the emotions they’re feeling.
The ability to motivate others and rally them around a common cause is essential to a leader’s effectiveness. That’s no different during a crisis. But what is different is how a crisis affects employee motivation and engagement and, therefore, productivity.
During a crisis, workloads may increase—or drastically decrease. Work environments and circumstances may change. There will be times that employees feel out of control. Employees may struggle with staying motivated and engaged due to that sense of fear and uncertainty.
Regular check-ins and feedback sessions will help you not only assess your employee’s mindset—and their Performance Readiness® Level for changing responsibilities—but provide continuing opportunities to ensure employees understand how their individual performance is connected with your overall crisis response. When employees feel valued and supported, they’ll feel increasingly engaged and motivated.
While we know that we’ll eventually face a crisis, we often don’t know the exact nature of that crisis. Therefore, it’s tough to have a predefined response. Your response depends on the situation. But crisis management isn’t just one person’s response. In fact, while a top-down leadership style may be intuitive (employees will look to the leader for, well, leadership) it is often ineffective during a crisis. Instead, you’ll need to adapt your leadership style to suit the specifics of the crisis situation and the changing responsibilities of your employees.
Anyone can learn leadership skills, and anyone can learn to apply those skills to crisis management, and practice doing so. The one thing you can’t learn ahead of time is experience—that comes with time. But while crises are often unforeseen and sudden, you’ll be able to quickly adapt if you have a strong foundation of leadership skills.
- What do you think is the most important leadership skill you need to manage a crisis? Why?
- Think of a time when you or your organization was in crisis (it doesn’t have to be major). Looking back, what did you (or other leaders) do well or not so well in terms of responding?