There’s no way to soft-pedal it. The coronavirus is now the greatest challenge facing us––all of us today.
We need your leadership. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, branch manager, member of the board––or if you’re a teller, a member service rep or the janitor. We need leadership at ALL levels.
Leadership has nothing to do with rank, title or position of authority. Leaders are people who see what needs doing and they do it––and right now, we need all hands on deck.
No blame. Blame is destructive in a crisis.
Take care not to blame in your own leadership practice. It’s easy to do in these situations. Right now people are angry. They’re blaming government. They’re blaming scientists. And when they get laid off and start struggling with payments––they’re going to blame you.
People are blaming leaders for their response. We can argue whether or not the response has been appropriate to the threat. Let’s save that for when this is over. Let’s focus on what we need to do as leaders to face the very real challenges the virus and our response is handing us right now.
Work the problem.
There will be plenty of challenges coming as this thing unfolds.
Identify the impact. Focus on solutions and work-arounds. Face the problem head on.
You’ve got functional issues. Staff members may become infected. You deal with the public. You handle money––well documented as a means of transmission with these pathogens.
People are already rushing stores for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It’s likely some will rush you for cash too. And as cancellations and closings increase, people are going to have a tough time paying their loans.
What is your response? You’ve got to focus on immediate steps that will be best for your staff and for your members.
To do this…
Get people involved . . . at all levels.
One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make in a situation like this is trying to do it alone. You are a leader. By definition you are not working alone.
You may have to lay people off before this is over. You may have to close branches or limit access to members. You will make decisions that can severely impact the lives of the people you serve.
Involve them. Be as transparent as possible about what you’re facing. And I mean involve everyone. One of the special things about credit unions is that as members, we are owners! Be sure to involve us.
And involve your staff––at all levels. Leadership has nothing to do with rank, title or position of authority. Everyone on your team––everyone––can contribute.
General Patton famously said,
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Tell people you’re up against it. See what solutions they come up with. You may be surprised when some of the best ideas come from the most unlikely sources.
Share what you know about the threat.
The problem with COVID-19 is that there is a lot we don’t know. Healthcare officials are saying they don’t yet understand how this virus is mutating, why it’s particularly dangerous to specific types of people or exactly how long it can live on hard surfaces.
These are all troubling things NOT to know about a dangerous pathogen. As you learn more, share more.
And share your plans.
At least the plans you have so far.
One of the most selfish things a leader can do is to announce “I have a plan,” only to follow-up with “…and I’ll announce it later this week.”
This can mean “I really don’t have a plan, but I want people to think I do.” And that’s how a lot of people will take it.
Or it can mean you’re sincerely trying to comfort people. It’s more comforting to share what you know, admit what you don’t and promise to share more details as you know them.
Too often the justification for keeping things close to the vest is to avoid panic. Nothing causes people to panic more than keeping them in the dark.
The monster in the closet is always bigger than the one that remains in the room when you flick the lights on. Create a vacuum in a crisis and rumors, conspiracy theories and outright lies rush in to fill the void. Some of these can be lethal––more lethal than the actual problem.
You will have to decide what facts might cause panic. You also need to weigh them carefully against the damage you might do by not sharing as much as possible.
Be confident, yet humble. Lead by example.
At no time is this more important than during a crisis.
Your people don’t want to see you panic under pressure. Sure, you’re human. You’re probably as frightened and worried as anyone else. But people are counting on your example. How you conduct yourself will either send them into a panic––or inspire them to keep their minds on the task at hand and pull together to overcome any obstacle.
If you’re scared––nothing wrong with saying so. Just try to maintain your decorum when you do. State your fears and your reasons for those fears in a measured, deliberate way.
The best way to do this is to prepare what you’re going to say. Very few people are good “off the cuff” in these situations––and even the best usually take some time to think about what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it.
Include these components in your message:
- State the facts. State the problem clearly and accurately.
- Share your fears or concerns. No blame.
- Reveal your plans or response. Be careful not to impose an edict––just share what you’ve been thinking about so far.
- Solicit input from your people. Ask about their concerns. Ask for suggestions. Show that you appreciate their ideas.
- Bring them together. Express re-assurance. Tell them that “Together, we’re going to get through this.”
Always remember that who you are as a leader becomes reality in the hearts and minds of the people you serve through what you say and how you say it.
Transform ME into WE.
One of the most important roles of a leader is to get people working together––pulling in the same direction…
We’re all in this together. With your leadership, we’ll persevere. And whether it’s your first real crisis, or another in the hit parade––you will discover new talents, new reserves of energy and creativity. You will grow as a leader and as a person.
Adversity? We’ve got our share right now.
Celebrate Adversity. It’s your opportunity to become the leader you might never have imagined without it.