Leading through uncertain times means navigating all new challenges and accepting that you will make mistakes along the way. These are some key things every successful leader should consider when directing their team through a crisis and safely out the other side – whatever that may look like.

The world we are currently living in has brought with it undeniable new challenges for CEOs of businesses large and small across all industries. From worrying about employee safety and care, financial liquidity, customer care, and operational endurance, to attempting to predict a very unpredictable future – the pressure on CEOs has been immense.

What’s more, employees tend to look to their leaders for all the answers, even when these are few and far between. They will reach out for guidance in difficult times. However, it takes strength of leadership to be self-aware, admit when you are unsure, and seize the opportunity to assess your leadership style in a whole new way.

These six steps will help you frame a positive way of leading your team into the future by putting everyone’s wellbeing front and centre.  

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Acknowledge people's fears

The last few months have been full of anxiety and insecurity for both those inside and outside of work. Many employees will be concerned about a range of things – the risk of infection for themselves and their families, financial stability, wider political turbulence, and they might be looking for reassurance.

Everybody reacts to crisis differently and it is important to be mindful of this when broaching potentially sensitive conversations with staff. Some employees might open up, others might close off. In both instances, it is important to acknowledge that this is a difficult time, you anticipate business might be slow, but you are working on the best ways to get your team through these unusual circumstances.

Showing that you care for your staff will deepen their trust and commitment, result in happier team members and position you for greater business productivity and success.

Honour honesty

Transparent communication is essential when it comes to leading a team. Keep employees well-informed about important issues and make sure they receive honest answers to any questions as soon as the information arises.

Being completely transparent when news is not positive can be challenging (to say the least!) but misinformation can pose a real risk in terms of derailing team morale and dampening trust and confidence in your leadership skills.

To avoid this, try to share business developments with all employees in an honest manner, highlighting both the positive and not so positive news in a space where professional progress can be discussed openly. To reassure your team, be clear that you are doing everything you can to update them to the best of your ability as you move through this challenging time.

React with speed and agility

The most successful leaders will keep their finger on the pulse and process changing information at great speed. They will rapidly determine what matters to their business and team, and make decisions with bold conviction. Often, the fear of making mistakes is what holds CEOs back, but when it comes to making decisions in a crisis, failing to act quickly can be detrimental.

As Sir Winston Churchill famously said: "The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground." In other words, business leaders who are always waiting to see what happens next and those who favour a passive, reactionary form of leadership are less likely to inspire confidence within their team.

Be guided by values and purpose

A good way to navigate an unclear future is strategically from point-to-point. At each step try to make firm value-based and purpose-driven decisions as you go. Stumbling over, colliding with, or even completely missing hurdles along the way is a very real possibility, but just make sure you factor this in as a potential outcome.

The best leaders will prepare for failures and pivot rapidly accordingly. A crisis can be a unique opportunity to revisit what you stand for as a business and how you value your staff. A good exercise is to write these down, think carefully about them, and prioritise what is important to you as a CEO. You can aim to emerge on the other side with strengthened core values and a more defined company culture.

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Lift the mood!

A great way to help your team adjust to changing circumstances is by finding ways to brighten their mood. By lifting spirits, you can shift their outlook on work from negative to positive, fuelling productivity and job satisfaction. 

The simple act of getting your team to share humorous or inspiring stories, such as their working from home horrors or lockdown highlights, can create a much-needed sense of community and relief in challenging times.

Try to be a source of joy, reassurance and positivity as this will form an important pillar of support for your team. Collect and amplify any business success stories and reward employee achievements.

Look after yourself (the rest will follow)

You can't look after a team well if you don't look after yourself first. As clichéd as it may sound, establishing a routine of self-care and regularly checking in on your own wellbeing is just as important – if not more so – than your team's.

You can start by focusing on a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, or whatever helps you perceive yourself and the world around you in a healthy way. Managing a business through a crisis is incredibly stressful, so cut yourself some slack! Make sure you do everything you can to celebrate your successes, big or small, and monitor your own needs.

Check out Naomi Klein's book When the Body Say No, as recommended by Workspace customer and business leader David Plans. It details strategies to beat hidden stress and prioritise your wellbeing so you can treat your team with a similar level of compassion.

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"This book explains how trauma works from that email that you still remember to that guy who really hurt you emotionally or professionally. It's not just something in your mind, it gets stored at the cellular level in your body. Working through that is the most important mission anyone can have if you want to be emotionally available to other people and to yourself."

— David Plans, Founder of BioBeats, a Workspace customer based at Cargo Works in Waterloo. 

For more tips on the technological tools available to beat FaceTime fatigue and win over your workforce, read how CEOs can keep their remote workforce connected and happy

For helpful advice and up-to-date resources on how to navigate your business through COVID-19 and beyond head to our Back to Business Hub.