Great leaders rise up in times like this. They elevate because leadership excellence in times of crisis is very much the same as it is in normal times.
However, no one is perfect, and there are some nuances to crisis management. After talking to dozens of retailers and drawing on my own experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that great leaders excel at communication, reducing stress and promoting self-care and collaboration in times of crisis.
Communicate With Your Team
First and foremost, solicit ideas and solutions from your team. Give them a voice and leverage their unique perspectives. You will not use all of their ideas, and that is alright, but let them know you want to hear from them.
In the same vein, talk with each of your employees one on one. Find out what their personal needs and challenges are—such as family, scheduling, energy, stress, health concerns and perhaps even their reluctance to want to work with the risks of the current situation. Show them you care by listening and meeting those needs the best you can. Make sure you ease their concerns by reassuring them of paycheck security and the long-term sustainability of the company. In addition, communicate changes in policy and procedures often. Finally, don’t forget to regularly acknowledge their accomplishments and show genuine appreciation for their work and commitment.
Take the Edge Off
Uncertainty, change and chaos can trigger stress for your employees. Work with your team to create systems and processes to reduce stress and meet potential moments of chaos head-on. Many retailers have done a great job creating systems for efficient checkout queues, traffic flow, physical distancing and customer interaction. It is also important to properly equip your team, including safety gear. Your employees need to feel safe to give you their best.
Many leaders are taking the edge off by having friendly competitions, such as dance-offs, singing duels and costume battles, and then posting the videos and photos on social media. Let your team be the stars of the show!
Finally, consider dressing up harsh reminders of crisis moments. For instance, employees at Home Hardware in Nova Scotia cut shapes (such as fish and animals) out of paint chips and placed them on sneeze guards to create themed “windows” at the checkouts and paint and service counters. Themes included an aquarium, zoo, and celebrity photo booth. This festive idea has lightened the mood and provided conversation pieces. Finally, give employees regular opportunities to take a break and vent as needed. Be cognizant of their body language and anticipate what they may need from their leader in a moment of uncertainty.
Prioritize Self-Care and Collaboration
Remember to take care of yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to come up with all of the solutions. Talk to other leaders, store owners and friends in and out of the industry. Share your frustrations, vent and collaborate on innovative solutions. Continue to exercise and eat healthy. Foundational research that came out of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball State University revealed that the most productive entrepreneurs and leaders who also had the greatest longevity in their businesses exercised regularly and stayed healthy.
Great leadership is “exposed” in times of crisis. Listen to your team’s ideas, meet their needs, regularly communicate with them, be intentional about taking the edge off and don’t forget to take care of yourself. You won’t be perfect, but you can have a great impact on your team, your business, and your communities. You were made for this!