Leadership in Times of Crisis By: Pasquale Ferrara, Jr 2020.04.03

COVID-19 and its collateral impact, from financial markets disruption through people displacement, family separation, and fear for one’s survivability, have no comparison in recent memory. The challenges faced by industry leaders have never been greater.

Leading through the COVID-19 crisis requires all the training and skills our business leaders have honed over the years. A focus on business continuity and sustainability are top of mind, from global giants to the mom and pop corner market. It is understandable that the first thoughts are often given to financial and economic capital; after all, these are what fuel our way of life. Business leaders are well-trained to handle markets and supply chain disruptions, liquidity crunches, and capital concerns. These areas require business leaders to pull out all stops and rise to the challenge, using all their business IQ. Often overlooked, or considered with less urgency, are the human and social capital impacts of a crisis, the EQ, or emotional intelligence, aspects of our leadership responsibilities. In short, the people part of the leadership equation.

This current crisis is unique. It is a tsunami of events requiring a delicate balance of managing the day-to-day and leading into the future. Leading people through this crisis will be the greatest leadership challenge most have ever faced and doing it successfully will yield the greatest dividends for your organization in terms of survivability, and employee loyalty and dedication.

A few thoughts to consider with the emphasis on the people side of this crisis.

Empathy: If there were ever a time or situation where we should connect with the people that we lead, it is now. It is not always easy to express empathy; but we are experiencing the same health fears, safety concerns, and separation from our loved ones as our people.

Vulnerability: Yes, we are leaders, and no we don’t have all the answers. In fact, we may not have the answers necessary to give immediate comfort to our staff. Vulnerability requires authenticity and courage. Two traits that will resonate with those we lead. Be honest and open and provide answers if you have them.

Compassion: Stay connected to those you lead. Start each conversation with “How can I be of service to you?” Lead with the heart. Compassion is not weakness, rather it is a human strength. Like empathy, it puts us in the shoes of others.

Safety: Create a safe space for people to be able to voice their concerns, fears, and anxieties. Never has this been a greater challenge. Creating a virtual environment for your employees to gather and be heard. And do this often. Not only during this crisis, but as a best practice going forward.

Understanding: There will be a time for business changes, discipline, and corrective activity. All the things we do normally in business. Consider the timing.

Emotional intelligence has never been more important for us as leaders than it is in this crisis. Be self-aware. Don’t let your emotions rule you, especially in the critical situations that are occurring now and will occur over the ensuing months. Hold people accountable and motivate them to do their best but do it with understanding and compassion. This is not business as usual. Be empathetic and continue to communicate, communicate, communicate, even if you don’t have all the answers. The act of communicating authentically and with vulnerability will help to energize your workforce and develop strong ties to your organization during and beyond this crisis.

You and your leadership team have worked hard to develop a strong corporate culture within your organization. This is the opportunity to make that hard work pay off. Lead with your intelligence, that’s what you were trained to do. And lead with your heart, that’s what employees need mostly now.

Pasquale Ferrara, Jr

Pasquale (Pat) Ferrara has 35 years of corporate human-resources experience in diverse human-capital roles with both domestic and international financial-services and service-delivery organizations. Pat’s most recent role was executive director of HR for a global financial-services organization responsible...

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