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Leadership in the COVID Crisis: The Importance of Building Personal Resilience

This article was written by Shawn VanSlyke, Kimberly Brunell, and Andre Simons, with contributions from Matt Hinton, Aaron Schwirian, Gary Coffey, and Julia Livick of Control Risks. It was originally published 25 March 2020 on the Control Risks Insights blog, and was reprinted here with permission.

It’s safe to say that nearly every leader has been faced with moments of crisis, ranging from brief bumps in the road to more sustained issues. It’s also safe to say that the current crisis involving the COVID-19 pandemic is different than anything we’ve faced in over a century, one that looks to be a prolonged and possibly existential challenge for organizations. Effective leadership in a prolonged crisis with such serious consequences is absolutely necessary for an organization and its people, and requires physical, psychological, and emotional fortitude.

Several of the contributors to this article served as former law enforcement agents assigned to the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group; they have experienced long-term standoffs, worked in post-attack command posts, and responded to crises that strained even the most seasoned professionals. Leaders who have succeeded in navigating such crises recognize that effective management blends static, core values of crisis management with dynamic adjustments to meet their own personal needs and those of the workforce during critical incidents.

Successful leadership relies on a manager’s adaptive capacity, described as “an almost magical ability to transcend adversity, with all its attendant stresses, and to emerge stronger than before.” In this pandemic crisis, resilient leaders must respond and adjust to fluid circumstances across the organization in a climate that changes day by day and hour by hour. As we begin a prolonged adjustment to the “new normal,” responsible, thoughtful leaders must prepare for a significant shift in operational priorities. Your leadership style—which likely has served you well up to this point—will need to be revisited and adapted to this extraordinary and unprecedented crisis.

Leaders who thrive during normal operations or even during temporary crises can struggle to sustain personal fortitude during a prolonged crisis that impacts their organizations, their communities, their families, and themselves. To maximize your effectiveness as a leader and carry you and your organization through the coming months, consider the following strategies:

1. Recognize susceptibility to decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue refers to the idea that your willpower or ability to make good ​choices deteriorates in quality after an extended period of critical decision making. Under prolonged stress and fatigue, functions such as judgment, strategic thinking, and even rationality can deteriorate and cloud complex decisions. It’s common to have difficulty concentrating and to feel unfocused or adrift when faced with a perpetually shifting cycle of updates and uncertainty. As a leader who is forced to make hard decisions with potentially severe consequences throughout the day, you may experience a growing difficulty in accurately assessing the risks and gains associated with different courses of action.

Unsurprisingly, during a crisis many leaders frequently fail to recognize (or accept) the real impact and cost of fatigue. Ironically, the common perception that leadership in crisis requires tireless engagement and ceaseless energy may directly contribute to reduced effectiveness as decision makers. As we are reminded on every airline flight, in an emergency you must first take care of yourself so that you can care for others, and the same applies to organizational leadership in times of crisis.

Everyone has their limits. Your organization needs you to make critical decisions, and that ability can deteriorate as a crisis continues.

2. Lead by example: Avoid burnout.

During this pandemic, it can be tempting to think that, as a leader and manager, you always need to be front and center. Being the first person online in the morning and the last to sign off may demonstrate that you are energetic and committed…yet at what cost? You also want to be accessible, patient and level-headed, qualities that can run low when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted.

If your workforce observes this decline (and they will!), they may come to believe that all employees must similarly push themselves to the brink of exhaustion. Of course, during extraordinary times we operate at an enhanced level and there are increased expectations around availability. Yet during a prolonged crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational leadership must adapt to a modified level of operations—one that maximizes output without fostering burnout.

Leaders, therefore, need to model good self-care and demonstrate the importance of rest and recovery to the workforce. When you step away from work, truly step away. Appoint someone you trust to assume the leadership role and take a break from your emails. Instruct your back-up to call you only in a true crisis and be clear that you will not be looking at emails during time off. Be disciplined in this and others in the organization will get the message that rest is a priority.

Similarly, respect the down time of others. Do you absolutely have to send an email out at 10:30 p.m., or can the non-urgent, administrative issue wait until normal operating hours? Your actions set the tone during a crisis.

Finally, lean on other leaders and seek out assistance from each other, especially when identifying all available mental health and financial resources. Everyone in this global crisis is impacted in some way.

Recognize that you and your employees all have physical and emotional limits. Demonstrate the importance of rest.

3. Empower alternates.

It’s tempting during a crisis to become the decisive executive who boldly pulls the organization forward through the storm to safety (“I alone can solve this…”). Yet, even executive managers must eventually rely upon secondary leaders, a middle-management “deep bench” that becomes even more essential during sustained crisis management. While CEOs can and should remain the key voice setting the tone for the organization, an alternating schedule can adjust expectations for the long term. Extended crisis events like that brought about by COVID-19 are best served by decision-making processes that are consultative, rather than unilateral, in style.

Ensure that trusted alternates are informed and empowered to make decisions.

4. Be conscious of straining your crisis management team.

At the beginning of a crisis, it is normal to adopt an “all hands on deck” approach. It is also typical to overburden your “go-to” team members, the high-performers who push themselves to the point where stress and fatigue compromise their decision making. Adaptive capacity in this context means the dispersion of tasks and the preservation of energy.

For instance, dividing a medium or large crisis management team (CMT) into two or more teams will allow for shift work and will sustain effectiveness over a prolonged crisis event. Make sure that your high performers aren’t overused or drained to the point of exhaustion. They may resist taking down time and may need to be directed to rest.

Given the enormity and scope of a pandemic, consider that some CMT members are now being pulled in new and unforeseen directions. It’s safe to say that most CMTs have not prepared for a pandemic of this proportion and impact. Your teams likely feel inadequately prepared or trained, increasing the likelihood of compromised team confidence. In addition, many CMT members will be placed in a position where they are providing both technical and emotional support to coworkers and clients, a multidirectional drain that can quickly squeeze even the most resilient of teams. Empowering teams through training opportunities and eliminating nonessential administrative tasks may preserve mental and emotional bandwidth.

Organizations that are faring well in the crisis tend to have a CMT that is closely supported by various operational teams (e.g., finance, supply chain). The operational teams handle relevant administrative tasks, research, and analysis, freeing up the executive CMT to absorb the most crucial information to guide critical decisions.

Lea aquí el documento completo

Fecha de publicaciónabril 28, 2020

BELT.ES no se hace responsable de las opiniones de los artículos reproducidos en nuestra Revista de Prensa, ni hace necesariamente suyas las opiniones y criterios expresados. La difusión de la información reproducida se realiza sin fines comerciales. 

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