Lessons in crisis leadership

By Aaron McIntosh, General Manager, APAC, Bullhorn
Leadership, even at the best of times, is a demanding task requiring empathy, decisiveness, and honesty...

Leadership, even at the best of times, is a demanding task requiring empathy, decisiveness, and honesty.

A steady hand at the wheel can make all the difference when margins are thin and effective leadership can rally employees to stay calm and give their all. A crisis significantly exacerbates the need for all of these things. 

As well as doing their best to keep their teams healthy and focused, leaders must also look after their own wellbeing. Take breaks, and don’t be tempted to divert from your routine – any chance to clear your head will serve you when it comes to meeting the challenges of the day. 

The value of empathy

Studies show that the single most valued leadership characteristic is empathy. In a crisis, it’s crucial to understand that everyone is under stress and doing their best to stay focused. Decision-makers lacking in empathy fail to build trust, which pushes employees away and exacerbates existing frustrations. Conversely, an empathic leader who understands that employees and customers are people, not just numbers on a page, will earn the trust and respect of employees, which they will reciprocate by going above and beyond. 

Leaders must be attentive and listen to employee concerns – as well as identifying those which go unspoken – and acknowledge them through effective communication. A great manager demonstrates that they understand their employee’s concerns, even if they can’t fully resolve them at the time. This sort of supportive leadership brings out the best in your employees, as they feel that their endeavours to work effectively and do their part for the team are recognised. 

Rallying the team

In uncertain times, employees scrutinise leaders for any sign of what might be coming next. The worst thing a leader can do is be silent: failing to speak to employees, being distant, or otherwise failing to communicate does not reassure employees and can even lead to distrust. Frequent, honest communication, on the other hand, means that employees feel supported and in the loop, trusting that they’ll be informed when developments occur, which eases their anxiety. 

It’s important to involve everyone in the dialogue. If your business doesn’t already have regular opportunities to raise questions and offer feedback, it may be worth adding some to your calendar. As a leader, it’s important to stay close to your team. Keeping everybody up to speed and allowing them to voice their concerns is well worth half an hour each week, and in a crisis, it’s a chance for the whole team to get together. 

Leadership beyond lockdown

After the immediate crisis eventually abates, leaders will need to be prepared to guide their teams through the recovery. While it’s unclear exactly when this will be, now is the time to begin preparing plans and thinking creatively about how to emerge from lockdown as a stronger, better positioned, more valuable business. It's an excellent opportunity for leaders to develop their skills in scenario planning, but don’t become overly attached to your plans, because as we have all recently learned, things can change quickly. 

It's important that leaders take the time to replenish their mental resources which help deal with stress. Doing activities that bring you pleasure, as well as visualising your daily goals can help create a positive mindset and overturn any negative language.

In chaotic times, it's more important than ever that leaders remain clear-sighted, empathetic, and communicate with employees and clients. While things may be challenging now, every day brings us closer to a return to operational familiarity, and leaders who begin preparing for it will see the benefits. There is not a one size fits all approach. While we may all be experiencing the same storm, we’re in different boats so it’s important that leaders adopt an interest in the mental health of their team.

This article was contributed by Aaron McIntosh, General Manager, APAC, Bullhorn


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