Lately, I have been bombarded by “crisis leadership quotes” on LinkedIn. Ones like “never waste a good crisis” or “any kind of crisis can be good, it wakes you up” or “you can’t control what’s happening, only your response to it.” That last quote might be a good one to remember next time a crisis arises with my husband. But there was one quote by John F. Kennedy that made me pause: “Great crises produce great men and great deeds of courage." (I am sure JFK meant to say men and women; He was just in a rush when he said that line.)
It made me pause because many of us are still in denial that there’s even a crisis, trying to operate as if nothing has changed. Because many of us are struggling to show up and lead in an on-going crisis, one that seems to have no immediate end. Because many of us question if we are adding value in our organizations when there’s no playbook for anything like COVID-19. Because many of us, well, we just don’t know what to do. We aren't focused on great deeds, but we could be.
So, here are five things that our organizations need from each of us. Five things we can be doing, starting right now:
It’s OK to be vulnerable. Acknowledge the fear because the fear is real. For the first time for many of us, we are frightened for our families and communities and we're doing everything we can to keep them safe. Some of our worst fears are coming through: job loss, loneliness and depression, or the death of a loved one. Share your fears with your team and your colleagues. We need to be there to openly support each other.
2. A focus on getting the right stuff done.
We have lost all sense of control during COVID-19. We need to accept the loss of control and focus on what we can control. Now is not time to find some semblance of control by micromanaging all the details at work. Many of the details that used to matter frankly don’t matter anymore. Or maybe those details actually never mattered in the first place and it took COVID19 for us to realize that.
It’s about ruthless prioritization. Focus on the one or two things you need to get done at work daily. Does it tie back to how your organization’s strategy has shifted in the COVID-19 era? Does the project you signed up for in January still relevant? Or should you revise, postpone or cancel the initiative?
3. Situational awareness.
We must to be situationally aware. Some of us are in denial. Some of us can’t grasp or don’t understand the magnitude of what’s happening right now. It might seem easier to just hold on to all the things we were focused on before COVID-19. It’s time to acknowledge and embrace the new normal.
It may not be the best time to be asking for a salary increase or asking what the revised bonus target is. You might have to wait for that promotion, that rotation abroad or that leadership training you wanted to attend. And if you haven’t seen the headlines — time to tune in. In NYC, they are running out of body bags. Now is not the time to ask about when Summer Fridays begin.
(Please note: I hear a lot of people using the word “tone deaf” to describe individuals who aren’t situationally aware. Trying using oblivious, uninformed, unaware, misinformed… You get the point.)
4. Acceptance of new assignments.
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that the job description you signed up for may no longer exist. Work has come to a halt. Budgets have been frozen. Projects are cancelled. All energy and efforts are focused on protecting our people and doing our part to fight COVID-19. Now is the time to let go of that job description and to jump in to help.
Remind others of the skills you have. Perhaps you did a rotation in sales, or like me, spent time working in marketing. You once interned at a PR firm. You help with accounting for your partner’s small business. You fundraise for your local church. Now’s the time to utilize those strengths.
Raise your hand if you have time to work on other things. It’s a scary thing to do. It’s acknowledging you don’t have work to do. Show your leadership, how resilient you are and that you are a valuable asset to your organization.
There are many positives to remote working but we have to work harder to stay visible. Those coffee chats, hallway discussions and impromptu lunch dates no longer organically happen in the office. We have to now more than ever stay networked in our organizations and in our communities.
This doesn’t mean filling up people’s inboxes with lengthy emails. This doesn’t mean setting up multiple meetings a week, or messaging people incessantly. This does mean setting up virtual coffee chats (turn your camera on, please!), asking how you can help, staying active on your internal channels like Slack or Yammer, and engaging on platforms like LinkedIn.
Now is not the time to disappear off your organization’s radar. We are going through one of the scariest things we have ever collectively experienced in recent history. Now is the time for all of us to step up and lead.