Category Leading In A Crisis

NOW Is Exactly The Time To Invest In Identifying Your Next Generation of Leaders

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is easy to look good and behave well when everything around you is going well. If you want to see what a person is made of, put the pressure on them.

When a routine is thrown into the air, when people are stressed out, when employees are under unimaginable pressures, it is precisely the time when you want to test people for leadership potential.

Dozens of times in my life I have seen the sharpest, best & fittest soldier in the barracks or on the parade square fall to pieces under the leadership pressures, of lack of sleep, bad weather and the intensity of combat.

But the quiet person, the calm and steady one, the least suspecting man or woman rise to the moment and steps up into leadership like a well-fitted suit when given the opportunity.

In a recent post, I explored the difference between those high-performance employees and those who have high potential.

Read that post here

When looking for your next generation of leaders, it makes sense to cultivate the most extensive pool you can manage and explore who is stepping up during the current pandemic.

Start asking yourself:

Who is quietly leading their teams and their coworkers?

Who is the person other employees look to for help and guidance instead of existing managers?

Who is bringing the ideas forward?

When thinking about the future executives should stop old-school thinking by stopping these common errors:

  1. Overvaluing job performance and undervalue character traits.
  2. Promoting people who look, talk, act, and manage as they do.
  3. Undervaluing opinions of your employees.

Performance Matters. But Potential Matters More.

Then, when looking for leaders, you can focus less on performance and more on actual leadership skills, like

  • Curiosity;
  • Emotional intelligence; or the
  • Ability to communicate.

Read more about Emotional Intelligence.

When trying to identify future leaders, merely skimming from the top layer of job performers is seldom the best strategy.

Look for People Willing to Try Different Solutions — and Accept the Consequences

Pointing out problems is easy.

What is harder is to come up with solutions.

Even harder? Have the wisdom to change things when the first solution doesn’t work.

Great leaders aren’t only those with the best ideas. They’re also willing to accept responsibility for the decisions they’ve made: especially their failures. That’s what inspires other people.

So when looking for leaders, it’s not only essential to search for creative thinkers. You also want to find people with the courage to fail, publicly, and to re-evaluate their strategies accordingly.

The Best Leaders Are Not Always Those Who Talk the Most

Studies show that people who talk the most in meetings tend to get their performance rated as more intelligent, and they overwhelmingly tend to be male.

Put differently, those people who seem to be leading in group settings may, in fact, not be leading at all – they’re just talking a lot. 

Consider that maybe the best leader is the person best able to build consensus or is the quiet person who waits to speak but always comes up with the most forward-thinking solution.

Some leaders may be quite successful with personal projects.

Point being, many successful people keep their wins to their selves.

Read about boastful leadership

Trust Your Employees’ Opinions

Too many executives tend to imagine that they can easily pick out leadership potential, but relying only on your own opinions can limit the range of people you notice.

Here’s a different idea: ask your employees what they think.

Every once in a while, ask all employees who, other than themselves, they think possesses the most leadership potential.

Whom would they follow into uncharted territory?

To whom would they most trust their jobs or the future of the company?

This bottom-up approach to identifying leaders can pay huge dividends: you’re not only telling your employees that you value their opinions but also locating people whom employees already look for guidance.

COVID Leadership Questions #1 – How do I lay people off & conduct performance management?

Recently a community of leaders discussed leadership and management issues they are facing during the COVID crisis.

Two questions came up, and we discussed best practises on how to:

  • Manage laying people off during COVID?
  • Provide employee performance management while people are working from home during COVID?

The answers to the discussion are below …

How does a leader manage laying people off during COVID?

First, as a leader, you should not deal with a layoff situation in the same way you would normally. In my experience, a ‘normal’ layoff is usually done in a clinical, and often a cold-hearted way.

People are called into a room and told that they are being laid off; concurrently, their IT, phone and building access is shut off. They are escorted back to their office to gather up their personal effects and then out the door.

We’ve all heard layoff horror stories with people left sitting on the curb with a banker’s box of stuff waiting for a ride home, or their building access is shut off before they are advised of what is happening.

To state the obvious, COVID is a different circumstance. People are being laid off due to events entirely outside of their and their employer’s control.

Read how you can do terrible things to good people.

So this would be my recommendations:

1. Keep the whole team advised that layoffs are likely inevitable. You people are not stupid and will be expecting bad news, and if you don’t talk to them frankly and honestly, they will assume the worse and make up a story that is a billion times worse than the real situation.

2. If you are considering a limited layoff, ask your team how to handle it. Maybe some people may choose to be laid off, some might choose reduced hours, or some may want to burn off vacation & lieu time.

3. If layoffs are the only option, be exceedingly human. If the number is small, then have one-on-one conversations. If it is a large number of employees, set up videoconferencing or bring people together in one place (of course respecting social distancing)

4. The CEO, Executive Director, or the most senior person, should be the one delivering the news.

5. Ensure you have as much information and even assistance available so people can apply for federal, state or provincial COVID financial supports (like EI/UI)

6. Allow people to grieve and share before the layoff takes effect.

7. And finally, How can you keep the laid-off people connected to you, the company and their coworkers? Consider video social events, like Zoom Happy hours, where everyone can, if they choose, join in and stay connected. Or, maintain e-newsletters to the laid-off people, so they hear what is going on.


How does a leader provide employee performance management while people are working from home during COVID?

1. Unless an employee is just bad, dishonest or breaking company rules, most performance issues are rooted in the leader failing to set expectations upfront and early.

Read more about leading when authority is limited

  1. If you have employees working remotely and from home, make sure they clearly understand what you expect.

Of course, you need to be reasonable to the current circumstances. But it is not unreasonable for employees to meet deadlines, do good work and be available for team calls and videoconferencing.

You are still paying them regardless of where they are working.

  1. If someone is not performing to your expectations, then you can follow this framework for sensitive conversations using the 4 F’s:
    • First: When you make the appointment, say that you want to have a conversation that will be valuable to your working relationship
    • Facts: Begin the meeting by retelling what happened for each of you
    • Feelings: Tell the impact that the meeting had on you
    • Future: Help each other figure out what you could do differently and what can be done by everybody to address the situation

4 Leadership Actions You Need To Survive A Crisis A Hero!

We often think a crisis as a flood, fire or other disaster. But a crisis can be caused by a death, an organizational change or any event that rattles an organization to the core. A crisis casts a long shadow into the future and threatens the very core of your being.

How do you make good decisions when events are confusing?

How do you decide what’s important when the decisions you make today will impact a future you can’t imagine?

Click to read about preparing for Crises

Relying on strong values in a crisis

I led the disaster management team for Canada’s largest NGO and probably one of the most dramatic moments of pressure for me was 9/11. The images and story of that day have been told many times and do not need to be repeated.

But on news of the event, my mind immediately began to focus on what decisions I needed to make quickly to keep the organization from panicking, to focus my team on the right work. At the same time, I had to respect the volunteers and staff worried about their families and friends.

As we had people & operations spread all over Canada, the first message I sent out was for everyone to pause and breath. I needed people to calm down, and then I started issuing gentle instructions: those worried about their families could leave. We had to find our people who were travelling to ensure they were safe.

The people who were willing to stay on the job were put to work on planning and providing solutions. We organized a conference call for all of our people and explained that whatever happened we would be using our organizational values as the base of our actions.

Be aware of the effects of stress

Typically, the stress you feel during a crisis is caused by fear, anticipation and desire:

  • Fear of disaster
  • The anticipation of the outcome
  • The desire for it all to be over and get back to normal.

This fear will put unbelievable pressure on you to make decisions, solely to give the impression of doing something. You must understand that every decision you make expends your energy and organizational resources – energy you need to stay strong and lead.

Studies have shown that you can make 12 decisions a day. Make sure your decisions are focused on live safety and the survival of your organization – not the type of pizza needed for lunch.

The leadership role

Click to read more about leading in a crisis

To be effective, you need to discover what the real problem is. A challenge as you will face a tsunami of information – most of it inaccurate. It’s your task to discover the truth by asking the right questions, listening, and being present with your people.

A leader in a crisis responds by:

  • Facing the crisis and building energy through positive action
  • Being vigilant for new developments and information
  • Maintaining focus on the priorities
  • Assessing and responding to what is in your control and setting aside what isn’t.

Take action

Click to read more about business continuity planning

When taking action, you should do these 4 actions to resolve the crisis:

  1. Act. Once you understand the problem, you will see that there are only a couple of realistic options open to you. Make a choice and act. General George Schwarzkopf often said that the quality of your decision does not increase beyond knowing 75% of the information available. So act.
  2. Get everyone together. You have the power to draw people together to act as a team. If your people know you are in charge, they will respond to your direction.
  3. Don’t look for blame. There will be an impulse to find blame. But scapegoating is counterproductive. Focus on the crisis, not on blaming others. After the crisis, it will be up to you to analyze the actions of others, but at the moment focus people on what needs to be done, not on who was at fault.
  4. Do what needs to get done. In normal times, rules, policies and budgets are created to provide processes for the normal course of business. However, most rules were not created with a crisis in mind. Do whatever has to be done, and don’t worry about the ‘rules’!