Leadership in the Crisis

I lost my cool with a well-meaning individual on Monday. I regret it. The details don’t really matter at this point, but my reflection on the unfortunate exchange may be worth a listen. Why? Because crises require leadership. If you plan on leading your organization through this #@it storm, then you need to understand the mechanics of grief.

We grieve. All of us. In less than a few weeks, we’ve been forced to put our trusted routines and great plans on hold as we contend with nasty terrain none of us saw on the roadmap. For many of us, school closures, social distancing announcements, and grim economic news pushed us into the first three stages of grief—shock, denial, anger—in breathtaking procession. I spent most of Monday angry. Angry at a virus, angry at people I care about, angry at myself, angry for my children, angry at leaders, angry at this black swan that’s putting the world in a state of upheaval.

Here’s what I know about anger’s role within grief. Anger arrives when we realize that the news isn’t a fantasy, hoax, or some sort of drill. Expressions of anger, as unflattering as they may be in the moment, affirm that we’re beginning to accept the reality. Here’s the reality: People will get sick, some will die, and global economies will be in the tank until further notice. Like it or not, your organization, your team, and your family will be directly impacted by the advance of COVID-19. With acceptance, there is opportunity to muster energy, resources, and people so that we can address the current situation and prepare for the eventualities.

As a leader, you must manage your own grief while doing all that you can to keep your team and your organization moving forward. How do you manage your grief? Express it. It’s not a sign of weakness to express your anger (just be safe about it). If you are intentional in deploying the “pressure relief valve” on your anger, you’re in position to help your team work through theirs. In the weeks to come, it is vital that you provide your team with spaces to share their concerns, frustrations, and fears. Obviously, these spaces must be digital, yet they must be provided. Help your team understand that grief is a facet of our humanity. As people share their grief, be vulnerable and share your grief. The best thing you can do for your people right now is show them that you are one of them. Angry, anxious, human.

Once your people have ample space to grieve, be honest with them about the organizations’ trajectory, the viability of full employment, and what the organization is prepared to do on behalf of employees until the crisis is over. Now is not the time to sugarcoat the reality or provide some whimsical forecast for the organization’s immediate rise. It is the time to remind your team that we must stick together and rely on our collective talent and drive to push through this mess.

Be authentic, be approachable, be a leader.