You and your leadership team have been through a lot over the last three months. You’ve almost certainly had some extreme challenges, some small wins, and a lot of hard work.

But as you look to the horizon, you’re realizing; this is far from over. 

We likely have another 6-12 months of this awkward in-between time as the country opens back up, and we all start to get an idea of what the new normal is going to look like. That is also assuming there is no second wave.

Many leaders have been trying to hunker down and make it through the storm, knowing things would be ok when it passed. However, that storm is starting to look less like a thundercloud and more like a monsoon season or maybe even a new climate altogether.

You may be among the many leaders who know what they are doing now, the way their team is currently working together, won’t last that long.

You’ve seen the cracks all along. Differences in opinion, personality, and communication style are all heightened in crisis. 

Further, the prolonged uncertainty and the personal, financial, and professional stress is taking its toll on all of us. We don’t always have the energy to find just the right words or see things from someone else’s perspective.

Like the loose end of a rope, you can see the strands beginning to fray.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In this 2 part series, I’ll give you seven strategies you can use with your team to fight the fray and come out of this crisis more unified than ever.  Let’s start with the first four, which are directed specifically at you as the leader.

The next article will include the final three, which have to do with what meetings you have and how you structure them for your success.

1. Paint a clear picture of the horizon

Your primary job as the leader is to create clarity for your team. I like to use the metaphor of painting a clear picture of the horizon. You have the gift and the responsibility to look down the road at what could be and then work hard to describe it to your team in as vivid and compelling detail as possible.

 Your primary job as the leader is to create clarity for your team. Click To Tweet

This picture inspires and motivates your team to push forward, think differently, take risks, and work hard. It gives purpose and meaning to their work.

But painting this picture is incredibly hard to do when so much is changing in the world around you. How can you paint a picture when you can’t even see it yourself? What if you’re wrong? What if it is bad? What if you don’t know how to get from here to there?

These are all valid questions that need answers. However, I see leaders make two critical mistakes.

  • They freeze and do nothing. This is simply not an option. If you freeze, your team freezes. Your employees freeze. And your company stalls. Or what’s worse, you will relegate the vision to others in your business. Someone is going to step up and fill the gap, but they will do it with their vision and not yours. And you’ll probably end up with competing visions rising from various parts of the business. 
  • They think out loud. An alternate but equally destructive response is to think out loud. Many Visionaries process their thoughts by speaking them out. Doing this is like playing catch with a blowtorch in a fireworks factory. If you share too much of your internal dialogue with your team, you will confuse them and probably even terrify them.

So, what do you do? You need to provide clarity in uncertainty by painting the clearest picture of the furthest horizon you can see. This may be one week from now, one month from now or one year from now. Whatever the case, it needs to be clear. 

To get that clarity, you probably need to step away from this week’s work and spend a day or even a half-day getting clear. You may be able to bring along 1 or 2 trusted advisors from within your team. You may also need to find somebody from outside your company who can help you process and won’t be put off by the difficulties you see and need to share. 

2. Reinforce your values

As the leader, you get to decide what values your company holds, and you choose what you will allow or create in your company culture. In times of crisis and great challenge, your values keep your team and your company together. 

Unfortunately, most leadership teams couldn’t list their values (without looking at the wall they are written on), let alone live them out amid a heated discussion about the future of a struggling company and the safety of its employees.

You need to take some time with your team and get everyone on the same page regarding the core values you share and the team’s conflict norms. If you’ve not worked on your values in a while, now is the time. I know it is difficult to spend this precious time on something as abstract as values when there are real fires to put out. There will always be fires to put out, and there will be even more if you don’t take this proactive step to stop many of your future fires before they even start.

Additionally, times of crisis tend to magnify our differences. Re-centering on your values will draw the team together by turning their focus on what they share in common. It allows you to approach each discussion from a place of a single commitment shared by everyone on the team. 

Finally, values are most valuable in times of uncertainty. We don’t have the data or past experience; we just need to know how to move forward. Strong values will give you a framework of principles that will allow you to make the right choices at this critical time. It is also easier to defend and correct wrong decisions made this way. Because you made a choice that was consistent with your values, you’ll maintain the personal integrity and the moral authority to pivot. Your whole team will stay with you, made stronger by the experience.

3. Focus on active prioritization

A large portion of the chaos that crisis creates has to do with our ability to keep up with the rapid changes and adequately communicate what is most important. Doing this is hard when the most important thing is changing from day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. To manage this well, I recommend a process I call active prioritization. Here’s how it works.

  1. When the leadership team meets, you need to determine what is important now and who is responsible for it.
  2. That information then needs to be shared as quickly and as widely as possible (assuming care is used to protect sensitive information).
  3. The organization’s whole efforts might need to be put toward those tasks that are deemed most important.
  4. As changes occur, the leadership team needs to reprioritize the entire list, including everything that was on the previous list that has not yet been completed.
  5. Repeat the process.

To get this to work, the leaders of the organization have to be at the top of their game. Notice that I said the most important thing. This is unnatural. You see, in crisis, our attention goes to the most urgent situation. While sometimes the urgent and important tasks are the same, this is often not the case. 

Great teams often lose their way in crisis because they get stuck in a loop of chasing urgent fires, putting them out, and then doing it all over again.

To break out of the cycle, you and your team will have to work together to resist the relentless pull of those urgent fires. At the start of the crisis, you’ll first focus on those issues that are both urgent and important and then shift your focus to those things which are important but not urgent.

This is tremendously difficult to do, and that’s why it separates great teams from average companies. This difficulty is also why it creates such an immense competitive advantage for those who do the hard work. While everyone else is still stuck putting out fires and trying to get things “back to normal,” you and your team will be leaping forward and taking ground in the process! 

4. Celebrate every win

Though this is the last of my points, it is far from the least. When you are stacking up challenges, losses, and difficulties, you must recognize, reflect on, and celebrate every win no matter how small.  When you are stacking up challenges, losses, and difficulties, you must recognize, reflect on, and celebrate every win no matter how small. Click To Tweet One way I did this with my team was “Good Things on Fridays.” It’s a terrible name, but we were in the thick of it, and our creativity was a little low. 

Despite its boring name, this time became the highlight of our week. On Friday morning at our Daily Check-In, each person in my leadership team would share one great thing that happened for them that week. It could be personal or professional. That didn’t matter. What did matter was that we all knew, no matter how hard it got, we would have that one small break in the week. We would have that one opportunity to focus on the good, no matter how much chaos was floating around us.

In addition to a meeting like this, I’d encourage you to consider adopting one or more of these practices:

  • Mail handwritten notes to your employees, encouraging them.
  • Publicly recognize employees that go above and beyond, especially when it’s tough to do so.
  • Laugh. Just take some time to laugh during the day. The serious stuff will all be there when you get back to business, but you’ll feel better, and you’ll last a lot longer in the process.
  • Make a slack channel or post-it board with the sole purpose of sharing and celebrating successes.
  • Set up daily and weekly milestones and celebrate when you hit them.
  • Catch your team doing something right. In a crisis, look for every opportunity to praise your team.

I’ll leave you with this short story.

One CEO I know has set a date for a company party in November. He told his team it was going to be a time to look back together and celebrate their hard work during this difficult time. This simple act gives purpose to his whole team every day. They are all working hard each day to live up to that expectation, and the entire company is doing phenomenally well despite massive disruption to their industry.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the series, where we’ll discuss how you can structure and orient your meetings to get the most out of your team and push forward through this crisis together as one unit.

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