“Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others.” Author Robert Louis Stevenson said this over 100 years ago, but it’s good advice for leaders trying to guide their employees through a pandemic that is complicated by hurricanes and other natural disasters, racial tensions, political division, and other issues.
There are a few steps you can take to help ensure you’re the leader your workers need during these challenging times.
- Separate facts from fiction. Clearly, there are some real threats related to crisis situations such as a pandemic or a hurricane; but take time to help your workers understand the real threats – potential illness, loss of property, or even death. Instead of ignoring or dismissing these, acknowledge them and help everyone understand how they can prevent, avoid, or minimize these potential outcomes. At the same time, quell rumors, unfounded fears, and misperceptions. Let workers know what you are doing to protect them and why they shouldn’t worry about things that won’t or are very unlikely to happen.
- Reduce ambiguity. Fear of the unknown heightens anxieties. Be as transparent as possible and be clear about what changes (if any) are likely to impact employees. If answers are unknown, recognize that and let people know you’ll keep them in the loop. When possible, however, a partial answer is better than no answer.
- Inspire confidence. Seek input from workers, including their questions, concerns, and needs as well as their suggestions for solutions and innovations. Then demonstrate calm, informed decision making. Keep an open door to enable real-time sharing of concerns or problems as they arise.
- Model calm. Imagine you’re on a plane and you fly into a storm. If the pilot is calm, it’s easier for you to relax, isn’t it? You’re pilot to your workers, and they’re looking for you to help them know how to feel. If you’re calm and reassuring, your teams are likely to feel better; and they’ll be able to focus on taking care of business.
- Strive for consistency. Work with other leaders and managers to make sure you are sharing consistent messages across the board throughout the organization. This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t tailor messages to different audiences. However, avoid inconsistencies, conflicting messages, and opposing numbers, statistics, or facts.
- Be flexible. Be willing to consider new ways of working to protect workers and residents and enable employees to take care of their homes and families. It may be appropriate to ease rules about things like proper workplace attire and work schedules. Refocus some energy and resources on nonurgent matters that need attention.
When there is calm in the world and the weather, take time to prepare for crises. Review your policies and procedures, your emergency response plans, your PPE supplies, and other crisis-related details. Meet with staff and find out what worked and didn’t work regarding your pandemic or other disaster response. Recognize your staff for their courage and commitment during these challenging times; and budget for rewards such as gift cards, meals and treats, and/or time off.