Leading in the crisis

by Dr. Beate Heller

Crisis means "decision" in Greek. No matter how severe a crisis is, it triggers the urgent need to make decisions as a result of a sense of threat and an increase in uncertainty. In the Corona pandemic, there is the added feeling and fear of having to survive not only business-wise but also personally, which initially triggers not a "déjà" but a "jamais vu," even among experienced crisis managers. On an emotional level, the crisis causes despair, anger, rage and fear, but also courage, courageousness and eagerness to survive.

In such extreme phases, people and especially executives show their true colors and character. Their best, but also their worst sides are brought to light. One thing is certain: crises are not for managers whose leadership motivation is characterized by narcissism, opportunism or career ambition.

What matters now are values and behavioral patterns that, before Covid-19, were neglected or lying dormant in competency models, but are now urgently needed. After Covid-19, every manager will have to be measured against these values and behavioral patterns, because the crisis memory of those involved and affected is long.

The following 10 rules should therefore be taken to heart by managers:

1. communicate openly and honestly

Even if you don't like what you have to say, you should have the confidence and guts to share difficult issues not only bilaterally, but also with internal and external audiences. Employees are smart and very aware of what is being played. Before they hear drama from others, managers should get ahead of it. That builds trust.

2. communicate frequently

Treat the crisis like the breaking news story that it is and ask yourself every day what your employees, customers, etc. need to know today and the following day. This creates closeness and connectedness. - You cannot overcommunicate in a crisis.

3. create stability through structure

Keep your employees and customers together through regular, frequent updates, in which you also give the opportunity to ask questions and exchange ideas. This also gives you the opportunity to always promptly share your own doubts and new findings that contribute to a solution. This creates security.

4. remain consciously and intentionally calm

Even if experience is a desirable value in difficult times, overconfidence in the sense of "I already know how to do this..." can be counterproductive and later lead to helplessness. The roller coaster between major sleep-inducing worries (the exceptional state of the crisis) and the smallest operational tasks (normal everyday life) is exhausting. But everyone will understand that. The danger of getting lost in micromanagement and losing sight of the big picture is enormous. Keeping an eye on both and not letting yourself get rattled creates sovereignty and respect.

5. show backbone and remain subject of your actions

Stand by your decisions, even if they will have negative consequences. Don't pretend that someone else made the decision; that diminishes your credibility and makes you the object of their own actions.

6. do not howl with the wolves

Don't join in the general crisis whining when your employees get together, because whining makes people sociable. This does not mean that you should close your ears to worries and needs. On the contrary: listen, let them vent, but then constructively point out ways to overcome the crisis. That creates perspective.

And now the most important point:

7. show empathy

Provide psychological safety by allowing employees to speak openly about their issues and private concerns without fear of sanctions or dire consequences. Also, show yourself open to the empathy of others and attentive to their well-being. This makes you feel like a human being and not just a resource.

8. distribute work with fairness

Crises quickly lead to distribution struggles, in which everyone secures their existence and survival. Make sure that work is distributed in the spirit of solidarity and not in the spirit of the principles "faster, bigger, louder, more important, better than...". Acting according to these principles weakens the foundation of a company and is difficult to treat.

9. collect everything new, improvised, to be preserved after the crisis.

While in times of full coverage one searches desperately for innovations and can hardly hear the term anymore, a crisis forces overnight to find new ways, to improvise and to experiment. In this way, necessity becomes a virtue, and innovations often emerge that should be retained at all costs.

10. crisis as a learning process

Crises are personality-building in their dramatic nature because, especially as a leader, you reach your physical and psychological limits. Take time to ask yourself: What am I doing with my life right now? What is my life doing to me right now? Am I who I actually want to be? Which of my 3 sacred values will I not give up even now in all this mess? And why is that?

Observe the people around you: they are showing themselves right now without a mask, albeit with a mouth guard!

Would you like to learn more about fgi's services on the topic of leading in a crisis? Then make an appointment with Dr. Beate Heller now.


Beate Heller Juli21
Dr. Beate Heller
Senior Consultant
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