Economic hard times, a country in turmoil, and the continuing fear of the pandemic have threatened businesses on many levels. Leading through difficult, uncertain times is tough even for the most experienced leaders. Though no one is immune to feelings of apprehension, there are ways to guide others through the tough times without crippling fear.
Keep Employees Informed
Knowing what to expect helps us all feel okay, and it’s human nature to look for the facts during a crisis. In organizations with poor communication, employees often feel like they’re on a dark, curvy road with no headlights. Do your best to keep them up to date. Tell them what you know and what the plans are for navigating through the crisis. Your news might not always be good or popular, but honesty and transparency build trust, earn leadership credibility and create a sense of camaraderie within the company. Employees need to stay positive but also understand the realities. A leader keeps it real while motivating the team to power through. Help your team make sense of the ever-changing conditions in the world.
Be a Guide
Leaders are the ones out in front guiding their teams through dark, uncertain times. Stay focused and be positive; keeping morale strong is paramount. The book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, is an amazing story of survival and leadership. Shackleton understood the power of morale as he guided his 27-man crew through insurmountable obstacles in one of the harshest environments in the world.
As a guide, avoid hasty decisions and don’t take shortcuts. Guide your team using carefully crafted short-term decisions that get the team over the rough, temporary patches. A good first step is giving employees clear, actionable priorities to rally around. Second, listen to their fears and give them a platform for making suggestions. Make it clear that while you are guiding them, you’re also walking beside them.
Don’t Become Paralyzed
It takes courage to be a good leader. It’s important to always keep moving ahead. Standing still only gives the challenges time to grow and your competition time to pull ahead. Be ready to act and to make decisions even when you do not have all the answers. Move forward with the information you have and the data you can gather. Trust your expertise and the expertise of those around you.
People need a sense of community to feel secure. Leaders help employees feel safe within their professional community. Having core values and a vision for the credit union can rally the team and create a sense of unity. They’ll stand ready to fight through the storms on behalf of an organization they are proud of. Help your team come together in ways that make sense with your business environment and day-to-day operations. Factor in the inherent needs and motivators of your staff. Some members of your team will want regular face-to-face interaction; they thrive in a strong social setting. Other members of your team want community, but not necessarily in a way that requires them to engage face to face or in public settings. They want to feel connected to the team through goals, feedback and news from other departments. Using personality assessment data as a leader can help you identify more easily who needs what. You can also share results throughout the company as a way for people to understand each other better and feel more connected.
Live with Ambiguity
It is not easy for anyone to live in an uncertain world. No one wants to drive blindfolded. But the truth is, we sometimes have to deal with ambiguity. Life has unexpected detours, and no matter how much you plan, even with contingencies, there is usually something that throws us off course. How many of us were thinking of a global pandemic a year ago? Strong leaders learn to deal with the unexpected. They examine the information they have in the moment and move forward. Some personality types find that easier than others, but understanding your personal leadership style can help you work in ambiguity in a way that is as comfortable as possible.
Long Term vs. Short Term
A strong leader never loses sight of the long-term goals while managing the immediate needs of any crisis. In uncertain times, leaders often have to make some tough decisions in the short-term in order to keep the business moving forward. Those decisions may include budget cuts, furloughs or even layoffs. It is undoubtedly uncomfortable to consider the impact and consequences of those decisions as it relates to employees and the sustainability of the company. It’s a lot of weight to bear.
Maintain a clear view of what needs to happen to get through a crisis while preserving the long-term strategic visions for the company.
We’ve already explained that a good leader is a good communicator, and that means listening just as much as it means informing. Listen to your employees; they will need a safe way to express their concerns and emotions. Reach out to your employees so they can tell you what’s on their minds. Some employees will be comfortable addressing issues in an open forum; others will not. Be sure to give employees opportunities to use whatever channel they are most comfortable with. Look at their assessment if you need insight on how best to manage those conversations. As a bonus, you may hear some really great ideas and strategies that leadership never considered.
Leading through uncertain times is like heading out on a road trip with no destination or GPS. Help your company, your employees and yourself by sticking to your core values, staying positive and knowing when to ask for directions.