A month ago, the economy was booming.
- According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, payroll employment rose by 273,000 in February 2020. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.5% (versus 9.9% ten years prior).
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average had its highest closing record ever on February 12, 2020. The NASDAQ topped 9,500 for the first time in history, and the S&P 500 increased nearly 29% in 2019.
- 401(k)s exceeded expectations, with gains of 30% not uncommon.
Little did we know, it would all be brought to a screeching halt by a microscopic virus, invisible to the human eye.
On March 13, 2020, a state of emergency was declared at the national level.
Businesses began to close. Schools closed. Events were canceled. Travel was impacted. Employees lost their jobs.
The first week, most were in a state of disbelief. First, there was a frenzied run on stores for supplies. Then people went home to isolate themselves in order to flatten the viral curve and its potential impact on the health care system.
And just like that, America was in crisis.
America…and the world.
How can you, as a leader, guide your family, your team, and your community through this crisis?
1. Be calm.
A leader’s mandate, in times of crisis, is summed up well by Rudyard Kipling. It is to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.”
Especially during the initial stages of a crisis, the voice of calm leadership is paramount.
My mentor, John C. Maxwell, is a prime example. This week, he conducted a leadership summit online, where he was able to speak and, in his own inimitable way, calm the fears of tens of thousands around the world.
Dave Ramsey also provided a calm voice in the area of finance. He said to his followers, “Calm down. You are going to be okay. Our economy is resilient, and so are you.” He advised everyone to focus first on their “four walls” of protection. One calm directive.
Mike Michalowicz spoke to the concerns of business owners, providing a one-sheet Recession Response outline.
When people are in a state of crisis, it can be hard to think clearly. A true leader is one who can step up and calmly guide people to the one thing they can do next.
2. Be consistent.
Everyone needs structure at some level. In a time of crisis, it becomes even more important to be consistent with daily routines like exercise, getting dressed for success, and accomplishing goals. While it is important to get extra rest during times of stress, it is equally as important to maintain daily structure.
3. Be creative.
When someone asked John what he was doing in response to the crisis, he responded, “I’m making lemonade.”
While we have been given some pretty sour lemons, there are companies and individuals out there making lemonade.
- Manufacturing companies are now making ventilators and masks.
- Unemployed moms are sewing masks for medical staff.
- Restaurant owners and retailers are linking up with delivery companies to provide food delivery and curbside service.
- Companies everywhere are shifting their brick and mortar businesses to online businesses.
- Educators are teaching remotely, and teachers are finding creative ways to engage their students.
- Parents are finding new and interactive ways to entertain and educate their children.
As important as it is to be structured in a crisis; it is equally as important to be creative and adaptive.
4. Be connected.
People, even introverts, are innately driven to be connected. This is more evident than ever. As people are isolated, they still find ways to connect with friends, family, co-workers, and community.
Grandparents are learning to use Zoom. Grandkids are having birthday parties for grandparents outside nursing home windows. People are singing from their balconies across a whole city. Congregations are having drive-in church. Companies are meeting via video conferencing. Leaders are connecting with people by the thousands across the world.
In his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell talks about how we have mastered many means of communication but have failed to connect. I believe he is pleased to see that, for a change, people are connecting first, and then finding the means to communicate. In times of crisis, people connect.
5. Be considerate.
The whole point of the current quarantine is one of consideration. Isolating in this case is being considerate of others who may be most vulnerable to the virus and to the health care professionals who are most impacted by it.
Consideration is also displayed by those who are less at risk who run errands for those who are more at risk.
Considerate are the essential workers who patrol the neighborhood, cook the food, attend to medical needs, make deliveries, and produce essential goods and services.
The bigger the crisis, the bigger the need for consideration. This is the time to be a considerate leader.
6. Be cognizant.
Crisis brings stress. Stress brings responses in ourselves and others that may be different than normal. Leaders, especially, must be aware of the impact of crisis-related stress on human behavior, including their own.
Each of us is a combination of four main personality types. We call them D (Dominant, Direct, Driven), I (Creative, Social, Fun), S (Steady, Systematic, Relational), and C (Thinkers, Planners, Problem Solvers). Each type has inherent strengths and weaknesses.
In times of crisis, two unusual patterns of behavior will develop.
The first pattern is where a person will begin to operate from their weaknesses instead of their strengths. Depending on personality type, this may result in anger, depression, anxiety, and/or withdrawal…or some combination of these.
The second pattern is where a person unwittingly taps into their secondary and/or tertiary types in an effort to regain balance or find support.
For many, this is unfamiliar territory, and so they are struggling with new thoughts, feelings, and ways of doing things that are deviant from their normal behaviors. If you feel like you are “not yourself” or someone else observes this, know that it is a normal response to stress.
What does this secondary/tertiary re-balance look like?
You may be a D-wired person, normally driven and swift to action; but you suddenly find yourself fatigued, apathetic, and unwilling to take any action at all. This may be your secondary “C” tapping into the stillness you need to rest, stabilize, and think. You may hesitate, where before you would “charge Hell with a squirt gun,” as they say. This may be your secondary “S” picking up on some details you need to address so you don’t make a hasty but unwise decision. You may find yourself tense, or “antsy.” This may be your secondary “I,” wanting you to have a little fun to temper the intensity.
You may be an I-wired person. You love to be around people, and you have a way of brightening the world around you. Only now, you are isolated from your friends and community, with bad news abounding. It feels very heavy to you, and you are suffering from depression. This is your I-wiring going through social withdrawal. You can bring yourself back into balance by being creative and connected. Your secondary “D” would prompt you to DO something. Your secondary “S” would prompt you to connect with someone who is important to you. And your secondary “C” would prompt you to pause and reflect. Leaning into your secondary will help lighten your load and bring you back to topside.
You may be an S-wired person, with a million details on your mind. How will you manage to work from home? How long will the crisis last? What if it goes on for a very long time? When will your food run out? What will you do for income? How will you manage childcare when you do go back to work? Left ungoverned, your S-wiring can fast-track you into a serious case of anxiety. It is important to be cognizant of your secondary wiring, which will usually help pull you out of the spin cycle of details in your mind. A secondary “D” will prompt you to take action. Organize a drawer or closet, take a walk outside, make something with your hands. The action is a healthy distraction. A secondary “I” will remind you to be creative and have fun. Being around children is good medicine in this regard. A secondary “C” will help you pause and reflect on a plan that will help you rise above the circumstances.
You may be a C-wired person. In some ways, the isolation feels good to you. You are free to think, enjoy the quiet, and read books without distraction. But if you are feeling ill-at-ease, even in an environment well-suited for you, it may be that your secondary “I” misses at least some level of creativity and fun; or that your secondary “D” needs you to take some action; or that your secondary “S” needs for you to connect with someone relationally during this time of crisis. Tapping into your secondary type will help alleviate analysis paralysis and depression.
Crises happen, though not normally to this scale. But the same principles apply. You may not be able to prevent crisis, but you can govern your response and lead your people through it.
As the CEO of Strength Leader Development, Deb Ingino is a highly sought-after international executive mentor, coach, trainer and speaker. Deb is well versed in global business operations and helps business leaders and their teams to discover and leverage their strengths, so they can create highly collaborative teams that deliver great results. With a refreshingly direct style, Deb helps leaders and their teams to deliver profitable results. Connect with Deb to learn more about her mentorship and coaching programs to equip you with advanced strategies to elevate your results.