By Chrystel Vandroogenbroeck | May 26, 2020

How to lead your organization during crisis and after the corona virus by Solvus

We have arrived at historic crossroads, at a point in time where true leadership will make the difference for your organization’s future success.

True leadership will not only get your organization through this crisis, but will help it seize the opportunities that are arising within this crisis. Experts and future watchers have pronounced their vision on a new professional and social-professional landscape, with renewed business models and a fresh, transparent approach, inspiring trust in both clients and co-workers.

Right now, the role and added value of a leader is ever more important. This unprecedented crisis has increased uncertainty, unclarity and has created significant business challenges across almost all industries.

To help you lead your organization during this crisis, we collected and elaborated on 10 guidelines from different works of Timothy R. Clark and Simon Sinek to help you lead in times of crisis.


1. Be authentic & communicate authentically

During a crisis, one of the most important aspects for leadership is trust. If people don’t trust their leadership, directives won’t be respected, motivation will suffer and anxiety might reign in your organization. In order to prevent this, it is essential to create a sense of trust. Authenticity is one of the most important tools in order to install this sense of trust.

Authenticity, or being true to oneself and one’s values, is exhibited by being transparent, communicating openly and linking back to your core values. This also applies to your organizational values and culture; implying: leading from your very core, your own DNA.

Two short term approaches to working on authenticity are: taking a step back to look at if what you’re doing is in line with your company’s values; and secondly taking a look at the way you communicate . Do you generally only communicate about the known or do you also admit, when you are at a loss for answers? And most importantly, do you find yourself always telling the truth?


2. Focus on empathy

When people feel that somebody actually cares about them as a human being, they will be inspired.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many workers are dealing with unspoken challenges, related to health, the economy, family, etc…

As a leader, it’s therefore important to provide a sympathetic ear. When people feel heard, problems have a tendency to become lighter, as if the load were shared. Overruling problems and forcing positivity on people, will usually have an opposite effect. Listen to concerns first and then gradually and gently ease coworkers along into other, more constructive perspectives.

Note: This is not the time to address deeper lying issues that have been smoldering for a longer time, however. These can better be dealt with after the fog has lifted.


3. Keep up with your office social habits

There is power in habits. When many aspects of our daily lives change, it’s important to maintain certain habits in order to stay anchored. While you may be displaced from your physical office, invest in the ability to make social contact. Social talk is just as important as work-related issues, as social contact connect employees to the company as well as to each other.

Conducting business as a leader during this new situation, needs to include what is essential within the midst of a crisis: a focus on social aspects and foremost a portion of lightheartedness. Be present and reach out to your employees via calls more often than usual. Not losing sight of objectives, keep these talks as light as possible to offer a counterbalance for the seriousness of what’s going on in the outside world. In order to keep a general focus, to maintain cohesion between yourself as a leader and your team, and also between team members, have a weekly meeting. In this meeting general information, new topics, wins and social talk, should all be given a place.


4. Ideas can come from anywhere

We are all part of the solution, ideas can come from anywhere. One easy way to stimulate this is to make time and actively welcome new ideas in every team meeting, as creativity increases commitment.

Equally important as welcoming and collecting ideas, is following up on them. Once the idea has been thought through, it can be presented in a video-meeting.


5. Reset your expectations

A crisis like this one does not only impact the economy and your business, it changes the way in which we live and work. Expectations, targets, work policies all became outdated in a matter of days.

Most teams are used to working together, located in the same office, under the same working conditions. In a quarantined environment, managers must,  help their teams shift immediately to asynchronous work and personalization. You’ll need to focus on results and offer more flexibility.

Be accessible as a leader, reset expectations- by mutual agreement if possible- and offer a daily structure and help when needed. A customized and agile overall approach will also help.


6. Support continued learning but keep it short

One of the upsides of a crisis is that, in certain cases, it frees up time. And because this crisis isolates us from those close to us, it provides us with time to spend on ourselves, which in turn creates an opportunity to spend time on learning and developing skills.

Learning can also be used as a tool for social connection. For example, focus on sharing short lessons in a 5 to 10-minute segment following team meetings. These lessons might cover a specific tool, behavior, or skill. Allow everyone to identify their own topics for training. Create a rotating system, so less outspoken team members also have the opportunity to take part in activities.


7. Assign buddies and peer coaches to add a layer of mutual support.

As lockdown times might lead to loneliness for some and demotivation for others, installing a social support-system is recommended.

Attending to every team member’s needs will quickly exhaust the capacity of most managers. As a method to distribute that responsibility, organize team members into small groups and assign buddies or peer coaches to an assigned colleague(s). This shared leadership model creates a second layer of mutual support and guards against emotional isolation.

Offer “buddies” a frame in which to operate, so they will know what is expected; the check-ins themselves should be more informal. Check in with the buddies on a regular basis to provide guidance.

This maximizes team leverage. It has the capacity of empowering the team, and bringing team members closer together, as well as decentralizing team needs/expectations.


8. Interpret tone and voice as a substitute for face-to-face feedback.

It’s harder to read the emotional signals when you aren’t physically together. Instead of relying on non-verbal cues, you must now rely on substitute indicators such as text, voice, and infrequent video communications.

Some of the leaders I have been coaching, mention that (video)communication with their individual team members, in times without physical proximity, is a challenge, both frequency-wise as well as content-wise. Partially, irregularities can be detected by noticing a changes in patterns and by reading on camera body-language. One would however need to be quite alert to pick up on these details. A one-on-one video-call is recommended as it will oftentimes remove assumptions and raise actual topics and concerns.

It’s recommended to use your camera! This adds the extra human layer to your contact moments and gives you more nonverbal cues.


9. Model optimism and drain the team of fear.

Optimism is contagious. Leaders who demonstrate hopefulness and confidence in the future are better able to help their team members find meaning and purpose in work and increase flow, especially in stressful conditions. Don’t forget to use humor as a relief valve…


10. Continually gauge stress and engagement levels.

As a last guideline: make it crystal clear to your team members that your main concern is their wellbeing. Humans are social creatures who long to belong. When you create and sustain conditions to learn and to contribute, you allow them to continue to perform, and perhaps, most importantly at a time like this, you acknowledge them as a person.

Likewise, this can be done in one of your one on one videocalls, next to valuing when in order. As a leader do not question, but promote maintaining a generic well-being by optimizing eating, sleeping and moving-patterns, as this is the basis of mental wellbeing.


In short: tips to lead your organization through crisis, contain several principles of change in general; since the fundamentals of a crisis are similar to those of change, only faster.

Several experts agree the post-corona landscape will hold a different outlook, both professionally and socially. Keeping in mind that no one has actually experienced a similar situation, we can support each other in a collective “quest” for new- and possibly better- solutions, and new ways of doing business, increasing team-cohesion in the process.

These 10 guidelines will keep helping you throughout this new professional reality.


Some interesting reads:

Timothy R. Clark: Harvard Business Review article, March 24 2020: “8 Ways to Manage Your Team While Social Distancing”

Lorie Konish interviewed Simon Sinek for CNBC, April 5 2020


Stay safe & healthy

This article was written by Chrystel Vandroogenbroeck, Senior Executive & Leadership coach at Solvus.

Solvus is one of the pioneers in Total Talent Management and helps companies with finding, managing and developing talent. With their services in leadership coaching, they support their clients in bringing out the best in the client’s leadership.

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