That last few months have been trying for everyone around the world. The threat of plague, interpersonal violence, lack of certainty, economic collapse, and possibly war in particular regions cause many to lose sleep and suffer anxiety. If ever there was a time for leaders to step up, provide hope, instill trust, and inspire all of us to be better, it is now. There are no secrets about the actions leaders need to take to restore confidence, peace, and stability. They are the same principals leaders have used for ages. Leaders need to assess the situation and how each crisis affects her team, identify a course of action to address the threats and seize opportunities, and communicate the plan to followers in such a way to reduce fear and create inspiration. There are no easy answers to any of the problems currently facing the world but leaders can still do things to make the situation better by following those simple steps.
The most important thing leaders do in times of crisis is provide calm, calculated responses. Before selecting a direction leaders assess what is happening. During times when we are in an economic downturn, facing a pandemic, open violence in the streets, and complete uncertainty about how long each of these crisis will last, a calm response provides reassurance that at least there is stability in one part of the world. In addition to conducting a hasty Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis figure out what kind of problem you are facing from the Cynefin model.
The Cynefin model introduce in 1999 by David Snowden and Mary Boone breaks down problems into five categories, Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic, and Disorder. Identify simple problems as those whose cause and effect are known. Apply best practices. If you have a problem whose cause and effect can be discovered with some analysis categorize it as a complicated problem. Apply good practices to complicated problems. The cause and effect in complex problems can only be identified in retrospect. Apply emerging practices to complex problems. If the cause and effect cannot be perceived, you are facing a chaotic problem. Novel practices are best for these situations. In the case of disorder, leaders must do something to restore some level of order before applying any solutions. Understanding the type of problem you face helps identify the best approach to that problem (click here for an infographic).
In our current state, it appears the problem leaders appear to face a chaotic or complex problem because the cause and effect may be discovered with some probing or not perceived at all. However, leaders currently face several separate problems. True some of them are related such as the downturn in the economy caused by the pandemic. However, the economy was also affected by the riots. Each problem must be analyzed separately with an understanding of the cause and effect each has on the other. The most important assessment is the impact each problem has on your team.
Once leaders identify the problem or problems, they need to develop ways to address the problem. Leaders do not have to come up with the solutions on their own. Turn to your people. If you are a smart leader, you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in different areas of expertise. Rely on them to help find some ways to deal with the problems you face. An example from a gun cleaning kit manufacturer is that they switched from making gun cleaning kits and accessories to creating protective masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer. They have been able to keep many of their workers employed and meet a growing demand for such products. Those leaders identified a threat to their current product line and an opportunity for a new product line and took action to keep their company viable until demand for their primary products return.
Often in times of unrest, leaders do not know any more than their followers about what their followers know. However, those same followers turn to their leaders for messages of hope, reassurance, and inspiration. Communication during times of uncertainty is critical. Be honest. Many members of the press have pressured government officials to identify when life will return to normal. The best leaders honestly say they do not know. However, they also establish courses of action to begin the return to normalcy. They use milestones measured in data rather than time to trigger certain easing of restrictions. They tell people what is coming next and what the standard is for that next action to happen.
As a leader in your organization you should be doing the same thing. Tell your people the problems facing your organization. Tell them the steps you are taking to return to normal and what metrics serve as trigger points for those actions to begin. You cannot take away the current pain people are feeling. If people know there is a path ahead and you are scouting that path, they will be inspired and follow you.
The current problems we face create difficult leadership challenges. During such times good and great leaders assess what is happening, identify a way to resolve the problem, and communicate their plan with others. As leaders deal with difficult situations in a calm fashion, they reassure their followers that things will become better. People who follow such leaders are better able to respond in bad situations because they know what happens next and can plan appropriately. Uncertainty becomes less scary. They know the night might be dark and stormy, but their leader goes before them making the path safer to travel.