By Dale S. Rose, Ph.D, President

It is never lonelier at the top than when all hell breaks loose.  Certainty is gone.  Methods of work have all changed overnight.  Financial resources suddenly become scarce.  Leaders’ mis-steps have extremely dire implications.  In the middle of it all, there may very well be golden opportunities hiding in the fog of upheaval.  And so, when the rules all change, leaders need a clear roadmap for what it takes to succeed in the new, even if temporary, circumstances.  The most important roads on the map to success in a crisis are these: 

  1. Future Focus.  A common human response to uncertainty is to pull back and play defense.  In contrast, effective leaders look to the future to help us see through the short-term pain.  They give us hope that things will improve.  That better times are coming.  They anticipate what is coming and prepare for rapid deployment of multiple contingency plans.
  2. Information Sharing.  Great leaders recognize that information flows and decision-making during crisis need additional attention.  People need don’t need more information, but they need just the right information and they need to share information vertically and horizontally more than ever before.  They need information to get their work done and they need information to feel confident about the future.  
  3. Results Today.  Priorities and a sense of urgency all shift and these both need to be communicated throughout the organization.  Leaders must keep employees focused on today.  They set goals for what needs to be done today to get us to tomorrow and they update those goals as circumstances change. Because systems and methods of work often change in crisis, leaders must connect with each team member to assure they have the tools and support needed to get their work done and be productive.
  4. Caring for People.  Lastly, leaders need to care for their people increases radically during times of crisis.  Leading effectively through upheaval requires compassion. Leaders must recognize when employees are shaken and not able to deliver.  Employee needs have shifted radically as well and being flexible to support employees is essential to maintaining their motivation and productivity.   

While knowing how the rules have changed is essential, knowing and doing are quite different.  A leader can read a thousand books on how to care for their people but still have no idea if she’s doing a good job of it when it matters most.  And so, beyond a roadmap, leaders need feedback.  Yes, even in crisis.  They need to know how well they are handling the pressure and what areas may need shoring up.  They don’t need a 50-page treatise on their strengths and weaknesses as a leader broadly, but they do need to know “how am I doing right now in this situation?”  Because if they are off track, the consequences could be significant.  This feedback should be short, focused, and should come with significant support to address any issues as well as encouragement for the leader’s successes.   

The importance of supporting leaders cannot be overstated.  This is particularly true because under extreme pressure leaders will often over emphasize one essential area and neglect others.  One leader I spoke with last week was being overly myopic about taking care of his employees’ needs and had completely overlooked the need for delivering short term results.  Hearing feedback from the team that results were being overlooked was a huge wake up call for the leader and let him get refocused on a balanced approach.  When asked about her team, another leader recently said, “they need to just suck it up and deal with this – we’ve got to show some results right now.”  Both leaders are right – they do need to show results, and their people do need tending too.  But the leader’s job is to balance these needs well.  And when they are falling short in one area, or way off balance they need to hear about it and have some support to course-correct.   

Dale S. Rose, Ph.D., is the president and cofounder of 3D Group. He is an expert in leadership development and assessment-based human resources solutions. He recently co-edited The Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback and authored the 2020 study, Current Practices in 360 Feedback, 6th Edition.