A crisis is, by definition, not business as usual. It requires different ways of thinking, acting, and behaving. Everyone knows this, but not everyone makes the necessary shift. One of the most consistent things I’ve heard in recent days is how manic people are, how frantic everything is, and how hard they’re working. It’s natural in the first phase of a crisis to try and deal with everything all at once. Everything seems to be urgent and everything is a priority. But as the days turn into weeks it becomes clear that frantically trying to do everything at the same time is unsustainable. It really is, as the classic cliché has it, a marathon and not a sprint.
Remember your first bicycle? Fixed wheel and no gears. Little legs peddling so incredibly fast. Then you moved on to a bike with three gears, most likely Sturmey Archer. And then you had that moment of realisation that you could peddle more slowly but go faster. Slowing down was a more efficient use of resources. A lesson for life, except that in a crisis, most people tend to forget their life lessons. Too busy to think, too preoccupied to see the wood for the trees. And at the same time, also having to confront one’s own emotions of fear, anger, frustration and confusion. Plans have gone awry and nothing is certain. And working at home highlights the often yawning gap between the pressures and opportunities of the workplace with those of home life and family.
There is no right way to behave in a crisis. There are too many permutations and moving parts for there to be a one-size-fits-all playbook. Despite all those conferences and case studies, there is little that is perfectly replicable from one organisation or situation to another. And beware particularly of advisors and consultants who claim to know what’s right for you and who tell you how to think and what to do. Rather, now is a good time to have a coach: someone to share burdens without judging, and someone who can help you find your own answers to your unique set of circumstances.
In these days of managing by not walking about, there are still plenty of good things for leaders to focus on. Especially in these challenging times, the eternal verities of good leadership should shine through: active listening, empathy, delegating, providing clear and concise direction and feedback. Setting an example by not sweating the small stuff and using the Eisenhower matrix to focus on those things that are both urgent and important. Again, having a coach can also help to raise one’s sights from the immediate to the long term. In a crisis, people often focus too much in the business and not enough on the business.
The challenge, as Kipling put is, is to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.