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Focus on what matters

Strategies to rely on in a time of crisis

The pandemic, like every crisis, is unfolding over an arc of time. Beginning, middle, end. What wasis, and will be.

For nearly two decades, I’ve researched and observed organizations in crisis situations. What I’ve learned is that while crisis requires executives to both lead and manage effectively, most crisis situations are over-managed and under-led.

Addressing the urgent needs of the present is the work of management. You need to make immediate choices and allocate resources. The pace is fast, and actions are decisive.

Leading, by contrast, involves guiding people to the best possible eventual outcome over this arc of time. It’s thinking about who and what is likely to come next and readying the organization for the future. That means seeing beyond the immediate threat to anticipate the next several obstacles.

This is where our organization lives – helping organizations plan for their futures and strategize not just for short-term success, but success that will sustain for the next several years.

However, the majority of organizations (research indicates 80 percent) get stuck in survival mode, managing the immediate response and never thinking about the future. Here’s how to get unstuck:

Step Away from the Day-to-Day

The human brain is programmed to narrow its focus in the face of a threat which empowers leaders to make important, immediate decisions. But if you stay in ‘fight or flight’ mode for too long, innovation, collaboration, and visioning become non-existent. It’s critical to get a bird’s eye view of the situation.

Ways to accomplish this: engage in conversation with your community; set aside time to contemplate the future; educate yourself on trends; clearly identify where you want the organization to be positioned at the end of the crisis.

Trust and Support

Managing a crisis is thrilling. Adrenaline spikes as decisions are made and actions are taken. You feel fulfilled by providing value and having purpose. But staying in response mode wreaks havoc in the long-term. Micro-management tendencies emerge, and chaos, negativity, and stress thrive.

The solution: Get out of the day-to-day to focus on the long view and what’s needed to prepare the organization for the changes ahead. Delegate tasks, trust your team, and support them through the process of making difficult decisions.

Put People First

Crises affect people. Yet, leaders often become engrossed in everything but the people, like revenues and costs. It’s critical people come first.

Focus on treating people as valued members of a team. Clearly articulate the mission and vision. Infuse the work with purpose. Ensure each person understands how they contribute to the greater good and that their contribution is important and valuable.

What wasis, and will be. What was is no longer. What is requires leadership. What will be depends on the actions you take today. The most effective leaders in crises focus their attention on leading through the crisis toward a more promising future.

The future is being written now. Stop responding to crisis and start leading your team through it.


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