Allow me to share with you a simple secret to preventing issues?that?demoralize your people and cause drama or trauma during these tumultuous times: stay close.
I like to practice preventative leadership. I want to predict problems and prevent them from happening versus waiting for problems to arise, reacting to them, and then repairing the damage. I have seen over and over again that when there is change or when things go wrong, there is higher likelihood for issues to pop up.
Crisis or change are not necessarily earth-shattering events, like closing down an operation or laying off employees. They can be as simple as bringing a new person onto the team, or introducing a new process. You can practice this principle of staying close for the smaller events as well as the big ones. For me, regardless of how smooth things are going, during times of change or crisis I stay particularly close in the following ways.
Stay Close Physically
If you recall, a main criticism of President Bush during the Hurricane Katrina crisis was that he did not fly down right away. Compare his response with his famous speech on the rubbles of the Twin Towers during the attack of 9/11. We need our leaders close to us physically.
I make it a point to literally move my desk closer to the action or sit around the people I work with. I want to hear their conversations, feel their fears, and steady their nerves. Many leaders, however, tend to retreat to their offices to strategize or regroup during times of crisis or change. Your role as a leader should be minimal in the good times when everything is steady. In those times?there really is no need for a leader. If you have created systems and empowered people, everything should be handled smoothly without you. It is during the times of crisis and change that you are needed most. That is what you are being paid for. Do not hide in your office. If you are already scared and consistently need to hide, then the battle?will likely be lost.
You may also recall Mayor Giuliani during the 9/11 crisis. Everyone praised his leadership efforts back then. Even though the city was going through an unimaginable crisis, they felt comforted because the Mayor led well. But in what way did he lead well? I think one of the core ways is that he was physically close to his people. He was with firefighters, with rescuers, with mourners, on TV updating, and on the streets working. We all felt that he was there with us. And even in such a terrible and unspeakable tragedy, we felt safer.
So remember to stay close. Come out of your office. Move (and stay) among your people.
Stay Close Emotionally
During times of crisis or change, I turn off my correcting and coaching role as a leader, and I turn on my father and caretaker role. I communicate, update, and inform. I listen, support, and comfort. As best as I am able to, I slow down and give people room to breathe. I give more praise and more help. I give more strong directives when needed, and gentle explanations when called for. Whatever is needed, I am at my people’s beck and call. But in whatever I do, just like an anesthesiologist in an operating room monitoring the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure, I am fixated on the emotional state of my people during times of crisis or change.
I want my people to know that I am absolutely there for them. I want them to know that it will be okay, that I will not give up, that we will not give up, and that we will stick together through difficult times. I make sure to over empathize and understand.
It is easy as leaders to ignore our people during times of crisis or change and narrow our focus on solving the problems at hand. And usually no one will blame us for that. But if you take your role as a leader seriously and understand the secret to success during difficult times, you will consistently go the extra mile to stay close to your people.
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