Leading Your Team Through A Crisis: Eight Straightforward Strategies

Let’s face it, we are all being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early stages, leaders I work with found themselves scrambling with nonstop demands while trying to resolve complex problems they’d never seen before. Rethinking health and safety for their people, figuring out work-from-home logistics and trying to work out how to keep the business afloat have been on everyone's mind. In this confusing and uncertain time, these client conversations emphasized the importance of reminding leaders to turn to what they already know works when it comes to leading people. People are people, and now’s the time to remember that we are wired for connection.

First things first, remember the fundamental safety principle: Put the proverbial oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. As the leader, your priority has to be to look after yourself as best as you can so that you can show up ready to tackle whatever challenge comes up. In times of crisis, you need your wits about you and you need access to the higher-functioning faculties that come from your brain’s prefrontal cortex, and the best way to make this happen is by taking care of yourself.

Recharge, Regroup, Refocus

1. Eat Well, Sleep Well And Exercise

In the midst of constant crisis, your brain is on high alert, and creative thinking may become less accessible given your brain’s primary focus is on keeping you safe from the immediately threatening situation. However, eating well, sleeping well and exercising can help keep you sharp. A healthy diet can help support the long-term health of your brain and boost your brainpower, while rest improves your ability to solve problems. The prefrontal cortex is energy-greedy and needs to be replenished to operate effectively.

Exercise releases endorphins, which elevate your mood and reduce stress symptoms, so move your body. Go for a walk and explore your neighborhood, or get on the elliptical, treadmill or bike you got a few Christmases ago. Not only will you feel better, but the distraction and reduction of the mental chatter that comes with worrying and stress can also create space in your brain and allow the answer to your problem to surface.

2. Pause To Produce Results

With access to media 24/7, it’s easy to get swept into the chaos and frenzy. Take time to meditate first thing in the morning if this is something you do. If you don’t, put a timer on for 60 seconds and count the number of breaths you take until the timer buzzes. Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, pause and count your breaths until you reach that number. Strengthening your ability to bring yourself back to the present moment through meditation or focused breathing can heighten your ability to problem-solve. You might even get an insight into how to move things forward.

3. Cut Yourself Some Slack

You are human. If tension at home spills into the workplace and you blow up or make a decision you regret later, don’t beat yourself up. Go back and apologize. Make it right. Authenticity, sincerity and honesty can give you instant credibility with your team and pay dividends over time in building trust. Plus, modeling this behavior can help influence a positive team culture.

4. Don’t Go It Alone

Share your concerns. Talk to your team. When possible, bring the challenges and dilemmas to your team. Ask for their input, listen to their opinions and incorporate their contributions. Distribute the responsibilities and collectively decide who will lead on what. This way you can lighten your load, leverage their strengths and help develop your team members’ leadership abilities.

Opening up to your team gives them permission to do the same and builds psychological safety, a fundamental requirement for high-performing teams.

Now that you’ve taken care of yourself, let’s look at strategies to support your team.

Transparency, Priorities, Connection

5. Communicate Openly

Uncertainty heightens people’s threat response, and creative thinking may go out the window. Clearly communicating what is and what isn’t known and what you can’t disclose for the time being can help alleviate some of the stress and move people into a more productive state. Recognize that performance may be impacted following difficult announcements, and be patient.

6. Identify Team Priorities Together

As a team, review current priorities on a weekly basis, keep goals simple, discuss how everyone will contribute and check in to see who needs help. Creating and reminding everyone of the common goals can help keep people engaged and provide some stability in these stormy times.

7. Take Care Of Each Other

Set up a buddy system. Let the team decide how they want to partner up and talk about what they want from the buddy relationship. Some of the teams I work with are doing daily check-ins with their buddies to see how they are, they’re solving problems together and they’re enlisting other partnerships when they need more brainpower. Some are even helping each other fit in their daily exercise by being fitness accountability partners. The idea is to create connection, remind people that they are not alone in feeling how they are feeling and build a sense of community in times when most people are self-isolating.

8. Connect Often

We are social beings who are wired for connection. During times of crisis, many of us have an instinct to come together and figure things out. With lockdown measures and social distancing, this isn’t happening physically. Now is the time to get creative and use the technology at our disposal.

Reminding ourselves to practice what we know works can help ground us when we have to deal with uncertainty. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone — most of the world is going through the very same thing. Together we will get through it.