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Worldwide crises are all “human-centric” to some degree, but the COVID-19 crisis is about as human-centric as it gets.

With COVID-19 dominating the news cycle, business leaders can’t afford to ignore it.

A pandemic affects people on a profoundly personal level and changes how they view life, work, and business. In these times, in particular, business leaders must focus on people.

Crises have a way of bringing out extraordinary leaders. These are the leaders who balance command with compassion, and who demonstrate humility and humanity. These are the leaders people want to follow during unpredictable and difficult times.

The COVID-19 crisis offers all leaders the opportunity to reevaluate what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. It is an unexpected leadership development program all its own, and the leaders who will emerge stronger are the ones who are most open to learning from the crisis. Here are some fundamental lessons that may help.

Being Compassionate Is Not “Wasting Time”

When you make it a point to show clients, colleagues, and team members that you care about them as human beings, you are not “wasting time.” Everyone’s emotions and senses are heightened at times like this, and humanity and humility matter more than many people realize. Being “professional” does not necessarily mean being cold, removed, and driven solely by data.

Likewise, it shouldn’t take a crisis to prompt you to demonstrate compassion. Acknowledging that things are not normal is a good start. Most leaders can’t help but demonstrate empathy, because the pandemic affects them too. Compassion must play a more prominent role in leadership during times like these.

Common Problems When Leading in a Crisis

One of the most common and destructive problems during a crisis is the “invisible” leader. While many leaders will find themselves in countless meetings with other leaders, to draft strategies and assess the reality of the workforce and the markets, leaders must not let this crowd out regular communication with teams.

Now is not the time to turn your back on communication with teams.

Moreover, communication with teams must be authentic and compassionate. Individuals and teams are called upon to execute both tactics and strategies that affect customers, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders, often in an environment of uncertainty. It’s hard. And good leadership is indispensable to making it work.

Guiding Principles for Leading Well in Crisis

Leadership must visible, and it must operate with purpose and authenticity. Leaders must not let their obligations at the top prevent them from communicating regularly and genuinely with their teams. Leaders may also need to increase the empowerment of teams to solve problems in your absence, but that can be good for rapid flexibility and adaptability.

Leaders must view the crisis of COVID-19 on multiple time scales. What must happen to keep teams healthy right now? What new procedures are necessary to prevent transmission of the virus in the workplace? What might the workplace (and the world) look like six months, one year, and five years from now?

Now is also an opportune time to identify unnecessary bureaucracy and get rid of it. When you face the prospect of operating with smaller crews and bigger decisions, multiple signoffs may become too onerous to continue. Agility demands comfort in making decisions based on the best information while being open to changing them should better information come along.

Leadership development is happening in real-time, all over the world because of COVID-19. It is in many ways a “trial by fire,” and we may not see the true results of the disruption of the pandemic for a long time. Meanwhile, leadership coaching can help leaders learn to deliver the exact leadership their teams need right now.

Just as schools are tapping online resources and companies learn to manage work-from-home teams, leadership coaches are working with clients using remote technologies. Nobody is in this alone. And if you are interested in developing your own leadership during this crisis, I encourage you to check out my leadership coaching services. 

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