As we go through this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, it is a very challenging time for leaders.
There is a lot of uncertainty as to how big the problem will become, and with no clear permanent solution, it is difficult to know how best to handle it.
We have seen different approaches from different leaders, different styles of leadership and different reactions to the ever-changing situation.
Some leaders have taken dramatic action, like China going into full lockdown, and we have seen that this has helped to flatten the curve, although it’s hard to know how accurate the information is coming out from these countries.
Some leaders have looked to try to play down the crisis in an attempt to calm the markets and the people. Whilst this might seem crazy given what we are hearing in the media. However, it is worth noting that even in New York which is the biggest Covid-19 hotspot in the US, that s still less than 0.3% of the population has tested positive for the disease.
The challenge is that even at such a small number it is starting to overwhelm the medical services, and given that the number of cases is doubling every 3-5 days, and that can become very disastrous very, very quickly.
One of the biggest challenges, other than how do we stop the virus, is how do we handle the fallout of the potential solution.
It’s clear that lockdown and intense social distancing can help flatten the curve, as evidenced in South Korea and China.
But this will have disastrous consequences for the economy. With businesses shutting down, and people not earning, this can lead to a short term financial crisis for individuals and businesses, but can also lead to a large recession and even a depression.
This means that the actions need to be balanced, we need to make sure that the strategy taken to solve the problem doesn’t create a potentially bigger problem.
Another challenge here is the rate of increase. Ideally, you would like to take some time to strategize and come to a solution, but with it doubling every few days what might have worked last week, might not be an option this week.
It’s interesting that some countries like the UK and the US are taking to the lockdown more slowly than the most effective countries, like China and Italy, whereas India, has taken very early action locking down earlier in the life cycle than other than those early hot spots. Modi has looked to learn from others and implement what seems to be working.
It’s hard to know what the final solution will be, but from my experience when leading in times of high uncertainty or crisis here six key things that leaders need to do to help people get through it.
Whilst it sounds like it is hard to know what the right actions are, you still need to take decisive actions. People want to see a response, see that you know what you are doing, or at least you have a plan.
Decisive actions take away some of the uncertainty. It might not give us certainty over the outcome, but it gives certainty over what we are doing right now.
In an everchanging environment, whilst you have to be decisive and have to work your plans, you also need to be flexible enough to realize when it’s not working, or when it needs to change. This doesn’t mean flip-flopping, that won’t help people’s anxiety, but you need to be ready to step things up if the situation worsens or changes significantly, or to ease back and change tack.
Uncertainty leads to anxiety, and anxiety can lead to panic. Good communication can help to address this, it won’t eliminate it but it will help reduce it. We can see this clearly nos as pretty much every country is having daily leadership updates, where they give the latest facts, and steps that are being taken.
Your communication needs to be factual, as this helps to build trust. It needs to be delivered as positively as possible, and this helps to build faith and optimism. Positive outcomes are more likely to come from positive environments.
Unprecedented problems require unprecedented solutions. You need to challenge conventional thinking to ensure you don’t exclude potential solutions. 6 months ago if I had told you that 20% of the world’s population would be under lockdown and that nearly all of the major economies were effectively being shut down for 2-4 weeks you would have said I’m crazy.
Yet here we are.
There needs to be a long term strategy, and here longterm might actually be as short as just 6 to 12. months.
Yes, you need to be taking short term actions, and dealing with things as they come up.
But you also need time to think about the long-term strategy. This way you can be sure that your short-term actions do not conflict or jeopardize.
Lastly, you need to remain positive, no matter what the setbacks. You need to remind people that you all will get through this, that ultimately you all will be successful, and yes it might take a little longer but it will happen.
Leading in times of crisis and uncertainty is not easy, but it does come with the job description and if you can these six things, it will help people remain positive and look to get through the challenge successfully.