This year we’ve seen COVID-19 present immensely difficult situations for leaders of all types to navigate effectively. While many are prepared to coach their team through difficult times, leading through this unprecedented crisis has surfaced new and varying challenges altogether. Most leaders expect and prepare for financial ups and downs, but many were blindsided by the quickly spreading virus that led to a global health crisis, lockdowns, loss, and economic downfall.
Examples of leadership during COVID-19
While we may not face another global pandemic like this in our lifetimes, we can learn a lot about leadership through other degrees of crisis from how companies have handled this pandemic to date.
Target, for example, increased wages for over 300,000 workers, offered 30 days of paid leave for those most at risk for Coronavirus, and improved social distancing and cleaning practices at their stores. This quick action and timely support are incredibly vital examples to follow for teams required to engage with others throughout the pandemic. Target’s decision to offer more benefits for workers while increasing safety measures to keep their team healthy helps show employees that they are valued and appreciated, ultimately impacting company-wide morale.
AT&T is another excellent example of prioritizing employees during this time. They have backed-up childcare options, providing subsidies for childcare or offering paid leave or reduced hours for some parents, closed stores while continuing to compensate affected employees, provided increased wages and bonus options, increased paid leave options, and more. Their focus on employees’ health and wellbeing has helped their team feel confident in and focused on their job, so not only are they calmer and happier, but they are also more productive.
These companies may not have had much time to prepare plans for this exact scenario, but they were likely able to adapt because they had flexible plans in place for times of crisis. While other organizations are struggling to meet financial goals and scrambling to come up with a solution that fits their team, organizations like Target and AT&T enacted sound plans, adapted them as the situation unfolded, and were able to protect their teams from much fallout.
What’s more, is that these companies saw real financial gain throughout the past several months. AT&T’s market cap rose from $192.4B on March 23rd (the start of state-wide lockdowns in the U.S.) to $205.78B on October 7th--a 7% increase. Likewise, during the same period, Target’s market cap rose from $48.44B to $80.36B--an impressive 65.9% increase.
Planning for crises
So how does one plan like Target and AT&T? The best thing to do is to think through your “just in case” strategies to help your team through challenging situations that might arise in the future. Even when things are going well, you should have a well thought out plan for handling different scenarios that could significantly impact your company. One of the worst things you can do as a leader in a time of crisis is panic--by creating plans, you’re giving yourself the ammunition you need to stay calm and help your team should you face any emergency, financial or otherwise.
For larger teams, it would also help to create a dedicated “crisis team” consisting of people who would each have different responsibilities should a crisis occur. Rather than scrambling to create a crisis team at the last minute, strive to have this team ahead of time. Ensure that each member has a clear understanding of the crisis management activities that fall within their responsibility. Crisis management areas could include internal communication, external communication, training and development, workplace augmentation, changes in compensation/benefits, and more.
How do you coach through tough times?
While it can be easy to focus intently on the procedures and changes when facing a crisis, it’s important to remember that everyone is still looking to you as a leader and coach. You are responsible for setting the team’s mood while managing crises, which may be the most crucial responsibility during this time. Without continued coaching and reassurance, your team will feel more stressed and less focused.
Try to keep your team’s routine as consistent as possible--reassure them that things can continue normally, with some exceptions. Because crises can feel like a shock, offering stability and security will help your team feel more comfortable and safe.
During this time, some of the most important qualities to display are reasonable confidence, empathy, and decisiveness. You should project a healthy amount of optimism in your team’s ability to make it through the difficult times while remaining empathetic to their perspectives. If done correctly, your team will be better prepared to handle the situation until it has passed.
Lessons learned from COVID-19.
COVID-19 has been a significant learning opportunity for many leaders who were not prepared before the outbreak. Not only has it taught us about the importance of employee health and wellbeing, but it has also shown the significant role that preparedness can play in a company’s survival and financial success during times of crisis.
While companies who created and enacted plans quickly were able to protect their employees from some of the chaos that many have faced during this time, others took huge losses, which led to furloughs, lay-offs, branch closures, and more.
Creating a plan and knowing how to step up as a leader and coach during times of crisis can mean the difference between strengthening your team and losing them altogether. Plan and set up a meeting to discuss how your team would manage an emergency so you can improve your approach to the continued COVID-19 crisis and avoid the fallout when faced with another.