Leading in a time of crisis

Now is a time for leaders to remind yourselves of what your people need you to do, and to pause and think about what type of leader you need to ‘be’ for others. We won’t have all the answers, and silence isn’t an effective response. We need to meet people where they are and understand their concerns, and we want them to stay adaptable and focused as our ways of working and the work itself changes.

Donna Lehman

And now I would like to introduce you to our host Dennis falsely global solution leader for leadership development at Korn ferry.

Dennis Baltzley

Thanks, Donna. And thanks for the great rules of the road in a moment. I'm going to introduce you to my colleagues Madeline Steve who are joining me and thank you all for taking time

In what is a very chaotic time for many of us, and disruptive time. So thanks for taking time to listen. We're going to do about 25 minutes on this topic of leading into crisis.

The COVID crisis has a specific set of features that make it particularly challenging for us and for leaders in general, that is, it's high in uncertainty and it's unpredictable.

It's challenging us near the bottom of Maslow's needs hierarchy, it hits us at the safety level and the number of rapid changes and the conflicting reporting that comes out about the crisis is disorienting for many people. And finally, there's no single experts solution that is the fix or the answer, it's still quite unclear as it emerges and progresses, so it's easy for us.

To get caught up in this uncertainty and we naturally seek to provide clarity and help people find a path through. And so we felt this

Time for us to remind ourselves as leaders, what we need to do what we need to be as leaders and what we need to do for our people.

We're going to talk about some tips and reminders on how we show care how we help people stay focused and effective during uncertainty and disruption.

And stressful times, especially when our ways of working. And it turns out the work itself is changing before us. So we'll go through as we get to each of these pieces. I'll introduce my colleagues and we're going to go through these 10 items.

These be and do items for leaders and I'd like to start on the be side. we're going to talk about mindset when we're talking about setting.

Up first will be Madeline Dessing. Madeline is the Managing Director for our Netherlands for Korn ferry. She has deep global experience, particularly in Asia.

She works in leadership development, she works in executive coaching. She does top team effectiveness. She's a highly qualified expert on this topic.

So Madeline I like turn it over to you to start talking about how leaders need to be in a crisis.

Madeline Dessing

Thank you, Dennis. But you may want to go one slide further


Yeah, thank you.


Thank you very much. So in the crisis leaders need to be calm, confident, and both of this they need to show courage, they have to be empathetic and resilience

These are correct mistakes that have been highly effective for leaders in both situations of crisis.

I know there are evidence of you're also very difficult to apply.

So let me start with the first one leaders need to be calm.

We've all had that experience when we are in flight or flight mode.

When I bring doesn't react rationally anymore and we simply are not able to make a decision.

We also know that as leaders in situations like this we control discuss concern, who has to become

I really learned a lot of one of my clients, Director of the school but a couple of years ago we experienced a major crisis. And that was when both his pupils was shocked by other students. Students

I was really impressed by how Kong. He was, he told me if I don't stay home. I can't think about what to do and I can't see what's happening. And all the people and it will be absolutely amazing.

Oh I'm sorry, demonstrate no sorry it's it's

I think it's unimaginable for most of us to consider workforce violence and trying to maintain common. What is this close to us, but I think you were just going to go there. What would you, what do you recommend to you.

Yeah, so I think it's usually difficult because these are kind of unprecedented times

But I would say in any leadership position, you will have some feedback around your own personality and now it's the time to dust settle all of us have our directors and that's also normal, but just being aware of what they are. That really helps in controlling them.

So leaders also need to be confident and positive. We are all leaders, but we are also left. And if we think about when we were comes in a time of crisis, it's usually because our leader for expressing confidence in a positive outcome.

And they came across as being in control of the situation.

You need to remind yourself that you got to this position for a reason you're highly skilled and no one understands your business and your business contacts better than you do.

In an ideal situation, your instinct is totally right. So you just need to trust it.


So, leaders have the experience they they have been successful. So trust their instincts and it's not easy when you're unsure, but this also leads us, I think, to this idea of being courageous.


Yes, absolutely.

At this, please, that this crisis needs leader will be willing to make courageous decisions had to act quickly to come up with new innovative solutions and to do things that have never been done before.

Apple closing down all its stores as an example of this.

And sending employees to work from home. These are all very tough decisions and all by them by leaders, but they believe them to be the right thing to do and they were willing to stand by that belief.

And remember, you don't have to go along, there's a, this is the time to pull together a diverse group of people around you and they can really help you to make these kind of stock.

Bonds, the CEOs. We have been working this she realized this very quickly. And last week she pulled together hurtled theme for a virtual meeting who agrees some new moms for their collaborative work and decision making.

This resulted in foster consensus over the actions they need to take and to communicate even as far as the next day. So quite a good example of kind of going with

Leaders also need to be empathetic.

It's hugely important that all stakeholders feel engaged and showing empathy is absolutely critical to this.

At this means on the screaming where people are on the grief curve and really responding to that. That also means that you need to show your own vulnerability

People need to feel that your empathy is real.

One leader. I'm familiar with is very, very well known for his straight talking communication style.

He's very focused on business but likes to use jokes and human to lighten the mood.

But doesn't come naturally to him with opening up and sharing things about his personal situation.

Last week he realized that his people needed something a bit different from him, he hosted a leadership team calls during the weekend really get his team aligned for the week ahead.

But he began the call very different because he started sharing something more personal.

In bit in particular, you spoke about his daughter, she's in her 20s. Why the lung transplant in the past, living now alone elephants house. Stay away from risk of infection. Well, that's kind of really something which is impacting him and all of us.

It was really hard for him, showing the empathy share something of himself really helps to create that sense of unity unity. The, the thing really appreciated it.


Thanks. I love that. I love that example, Madeline I think the final area is resilience, which is a bit related here. Can you talk about that a bit.


Sure. Yeah, being resilience means being able to reframe the situation in a positive way and bringing energy to the people around you.

To do this you need to manage your own energy reserves, your own mental and physical well being.

understands what is draining your time, attention and resources and look after yourself.

Go back to one of the stores you improve your situation. Perhaps it's exercises. Perhaps it's re engaging with your purpose, but you need to find them outlet as the situation will be stressful for all of us have leaders complex show

This is a first prices in the filter remote situation. I've been talking with lions and internally about best practice in working from home, things like blending for a regular way through some physical exercise.

All required to manage your own and your employees well being and this that there was an audience.


Thanks. Madeline you know I let your first example, we talked about common we had a leader who is probably naturally Coleman and you talked about under courage leader who doesn't usually show up that way but spend some time sharing of self so much of this relates to trades personality or people's mindset, what if what if people are thinking I'm not naturally good at that. I'm not I am empathy may not be my first instinct. Was what would you suggest. 


Yeah. So I mean, and I mean it is it is hard to change where you are. I will never fade to all of you is easy.

But you can understand your trigger points and you can prepare well if you keep these sites things we have been speaking about really top of your mind when you're communicating with people that will make a huge difference.

So let me just finish this section with one other example of one of my colleagues, and this was about the CEO of stuttering during the terrible terrorist effect on the OMA Nasca blend in Algeria.

Through the three days of music and afterwards when the desk bowl became clear the CEO of home and measure, he didn't want to ask unnecessary drama to already inflamed situation.

And he was very much aware the grizzlies loved lungs look for him look to him for hope and strength.

He was also very courageous and facing every question and comments for every interest of party never passing the buck to someone else and critically recognizing that his words was nothing compared to death being shown by the hostages.

Evils empathetic in his full works and deeds.

Putting those holes adjust and their families at the center of the narrative repeatedly

And people's resilient, despite being fooled by many parties 24 seven he showed up 24 seven he showed up as focused caring carry and income on to the latest news well. Enormously impressive.

So, Dennis back to you. 


Thank you. And thanks for bringing these concepts to life with great examples of leaders in a crisis, I think. Let's see what people are thinking out there. We're going to do a couple of polls. The first one is

I'd like you to think about a leader, you know,

And when you look at the areas where we think about the way a leader should be when we talk about these five areas as Madeline just did.

When you think of the leaders, you know, which of these if people increased a bit more if they did a bit more. They were a little more effective and these would make the most difference and so

Thank you Donna for will getting to pull up the pole should be open, but if you had to think about what would be the one thing that if someone could improve a little bit, it would make the most difference from the leaders that you know

And this will be, I think, a little bit of interesting crowdsource data for us to go through

The idea of being calm the idea of being confident and positive as we go through.

Courageous empathetic and of course resilience and I'm very appreciative Madeline that you brought up the idea of the personal resilience, or I think Steve something you had said earlier today was

It's if you are not personally resilient, or you're not personally agile, it's tough to lead agile groups or to help others be more resilient and so you do have to start from yourself.

What Donna, I'm guessing about now we should have a quick snapshot that we should be able to show some

Some of the results in the poll now. Nice. Alright, so it looks like, by far, empathy came out, we when we did a little practice actually the same pattern revealed itself, which was

Empathy came out sort of two to one on some of our smaller polls that we did. But when we think of about almost 800 of you 41% of you said

The one thing that would make the most difference is this idea of empathy is that care and understanding

And you will also have seen a note, perhaps, about the grief curve is understand where people are in this in this crisis and transition. Thanks very much, that that is excellent.

That is excellent. I'm going to move us because our time is short. I want to move us and introduce you to Steve.

So Steve Newhall is the managing partner and United Kingdom. He has extensive experience of working with top level leaders in international organization. He's an expert and talent succession management and particularly see movie.

And to success. So Steve, if you don't mind. Let's talk through the to do part of our story here. What is it that leadership.

Steve Newhall

Thank you. Hi, everybody. Yeah. So is that we've done the base. Let's do the do's and the five things that we recommend leaders focus on doing in these times are expressing a vision.

Communicating authentically, Acting seeking clarity and keeping it simple and purposeful.

And let's dig into each of those. And just a little bit more detail, shall we. So clearly, we've got to express a vision to give everybody

The same Northstar to guide and to motivate people and probably most importantly to guide ourselves. And I'm not talking here about

You know, corporate vision, though this may need to align to that. This is more about your own personal vision as a leader and in a second. I'm going to talk about the importance of an action bias.

But it's important before we leap to action, you know, to take the chance to pause and to reflect on what the vision that drives that action is


Can you give us an example.


Yeah, so I guess most of us, we've been thinking might be thinking about this over the last few days as things have escalated.

And I sat down and thought about this from my perspective as a UK leader and I ended up. I started writing some things down and I came up with a

With something that went along the lines of, you know, it's keeping our people, our clients and their families safe.

It's acting with impeccable social responsibility and it's focusing on ways to allow us to thrive in the new normal.

As soon as possible. I wrote those down. And then I thought that's incredibly long winded Steve and it doesn't align to the keep it simple principle. So I'm actually thinking of changing it to

Keep people safe and keep the lights on and I'm not recommending that as putting that up as opposed to child for a personal vision. But I think what we are saying is

It. This time it's going to be really important for each of us to go through that process of pausing and reflecting and making sure that we define our own vision at the start of this 


Crisis centers, they won't even, I know you're going to talk about this as well. It's so important to balance division and hope message with understand the world as it is like don't, we're not going to candy coat this but in there is a sort of a delicate balance as we go through this


Yeah, absolutely, absolutely does. And I'm going to come on to that in just a second. Before I do, I'm going to go to the second do around communicate

And clearly, we're saying here doing a lot do it authentically because the only thing that's faster than the speed of light is the speed of rumor.

And as leaders, we're going to have to tell that real informed story of what's happening as we truly understand it and

We all know any vacuum that we leave is going to be filled by rumors from people who are understandably anxious and whose anxiety is going to be fueled by

Whatever gossip groups or social media or whatever other channels they prescribed to so we need to remember. Also, I think that is a heightened anxiety like this.

People are comforted most by people that they trust most and the people that they trust most and most likely to be those that are closest to them. I'm talking about in a proximity sense and so

Investing early in that defining a tight truth will set of messages to be sent out and heralded by the by the chief executive.

is of course important but I think, you know, equally important is going to be the need for those message those messages to be to be shared to be understood, and then to be reinforced and supported by

All leaders or managers at every level and in particular in those team or one to one small group settings where there's a

There's a degree of intimacy that enables them to be explored and understood, because we have to be very clear that this, this isn't going to be a big bang comms plan or one off event.

This is going to be living and it's going to be very reactive and and the columns. The communication cadence that we need to have is going to have to match.

That degree of fluidity. The degree of volatility of the context and the extent of the anxiety of people in the systems that will leave


I like it. And it's a nice tie back to the example Madeline had of a CEO who said to their team at the beginning of this, we're going to reframe our norms, because it is going to be a lot more emergent a lot faster paced

And we're just not. It isn't going to be so structured as, as you just described. So I think also Steve experience teaches us that most communication in a crisis has to be two way that the speak listen ratio has to be balanced. It can't be overcast


Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So to put it, put it more bluntly, we need to make sure that the amount of air time and the amount of math time proportionate and and also we put those those appropriate feedback loops in place.

Okay, so that the third do is act and you know it's going to be impossible for an Englishman talking on the topic of leadership in a crisis.

To not channel Winston Churchill, at least once, so forgive me, folks. But one of the famous quotes attributed to him is another worry about action.

Only in action only non action. So in difficult times as leaders with a vision should always default to a bias for action.

And we're starting to see a number of examples of companies starting to act in ways that might just be counterintuitive, given the crisis situation that they're in. So Morrisons which is a large UK supermarket chain came out and said that it's going to accelerate

Payments to some of the smaller and medium sized suppliers, just to help to ease their fears over cash flow. So what they've done is anticipate the biggest fears or some of that biggest and most important stakeholders.

They recognize the currently they're in a position to do something to address that and then they've acted really decisively and quickly and in doing so.

Not only are they acting, but of course they're demonstrating those positive and confident leadership BS that Madeline talked about at a, at a corporate level.

We've also heard of manufacturers who authorized as much overtime as they can in the short term, to let people on the factory floor.

That they're able to get the existing orders fulfilled to exceed customer expectations and also to make fears. But in this context, they're not going to have their orders fulfilled, but also, and I think equally as importantly, this is an opportunity for them to give those staff who are going to largely be hourly paid. This is an opportunity to give them a bit of a bow wave of income to provide a buffer and to help them to write out the tougher times that they really think will become

And then if we move on to our fourth do so leaders must engage in in seeking clarity and what we really mean by this is

Leaders facing the world as it is not how we might want it to be in a particularly around and popular topics and when and always with a thirst for finding substantiated fact


Nice. This is that balance that you spoke of earlier with hope and optimism, but grounded in reality.


Yeah. Absolutely. And I think that, You know, most of us know that many leaders have become leaders at least to some extent because they've got that strong charismatic charismatic personality and we know that that's a great asset in times of uncertainty, but, you know, it can also be a liability.

Because that strength of personality can sow the seeds of problems if it means, in particular, if it means that people filter out difficult feedback or what you know Jim Collins might have called the brutal facts. If those don't bubble up to you as you said in that in do number one.

We've got to express a vision to guide ourselves and to motivate people but you know leadership in this kind of climate is equally about creating that climate where the truth is heard. And those brutal facts are confronted

And in these times of uncertainty getting that balance right between spreading hope and speaking truth. I think is going to be a really key test of leaders and I am

I was looking when we were preparing for this looking at something that that the time woman of the aggressive numbers said recently a DevOps.

And she said yes we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around, we can still fix this. She said, I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.

And, you know, for maintenance. That's a really nice illustration of a balance between communicating hope and and and speaking truth.


Steve, wrap this up with keep it simple.


So yeah, finishing simply with keep it simple. What we're going to need to do is to constantly remind people, what's important and keep them laser focused on that set of common goals.

I saw something that Alan yoga. This Unilever CEO and put out recently it was a very, very clear set of must must not lose

Around covet 19 instructions. It went to all employees. It was published on their website on the left, and it's on the public website landing page. It's a really good example of communication that's clear and simple and it leaves people in no doubt about about what they must do.

And I think as we move into that further into the unknown around this. Then one of those key tasks will have as leaders is going to be to continuously ask ourselves what our priorities are.

And to rid ourselves of those tasks that just don't help to move us towards them. That practicing what we call ruthless prioritization for for ourselves and our people is key and remembering that the main thing is to keep the main thing. But the main thing.


I love that. Hey, I'm going to move us to the poll here. And part of my job is the process time guy.

So, same, same question on the do side when you think about leaders, you know, what are these areas that leaders must do with it. What is the one thing that if the leaders. You know what increase a little bit would help their effectiveness actually give us a quick vote here and then we're going to bring this all together for

What is it that you see of the leaders, you know, they must do what would be the one thing they could improve on their do list.

Donna. Let's take a look, see what we have.

Alright I communicate. All right, Pete, stick to the classics. Here we want to

Stay focused on communicating a lot authentically, in fact, almost 50% above everything else we've got some nice crowdsourcing here that is communicate authentically it matters so much and then I think speed you said this, which is you can't overdo it. You think you've already said this 20 times, but you can overdo it as we go through this

So I'm going to move us in these last couple of minutes to two points. One is, there are things, then the beat and the do topics that each of us can be stronger at

And so please consider those for you for you as we consider them for ourselves and the leaders that you work with. And here's some quick tips on how to put these ideas into practice one. Use these tips as a coaching checklist for early and career leaders, I think.

On a separate call Steven mentioned that there are a lot of leaders who haven't necessarily or young career who haven't been through the financial crisis or many of the big things that we've seen.

Use this as an agenda item in a team meeting to set the tone to slow down the role and get into some of the important topics first use it to brainstorm.

Which of these creates the most stability or continuity and your team or your organization.

And then one of my personal favorites on the bottom left is use these as a personal speed bump the slow yourself down. Sometimes I have to put a couple of these items are an agenda.

To remind me to stop and check in over communicate before I jump into the actions and the things that we want to do then.

One of the interesting things you may consider is pick exemplary leaders in your company who embody these attributes. These role models are so important and have them tell their story.

Little recorded pieces webinars, but think of the people who show this who are this and then give feedback.

To leaders around these tones when people aren't doing it. And these could be at a variety of the spectrum, right on the left, people who are paralyzed and who are trying to manage 100 things and just can't move forward or

The people who were bulldozing their agenda and just at all costs, trying to get one or two things done.

Usually says as a nice little speed bump or interruption or a little coaching point and I know checking our time. We're coming up to this last minute of time that we have. 

And so I just want to pause and say, to everyone out there, look - there's a lot of noise and advice on this topic. There's a lot of swirl out there right now. So please pay attention to the mindset that what a leader must be in a crisis. What should we be thinking and how should we be approaching it.

Please pay attention to what leader must do to lead effectively a few minutes to pause and reflect is a huge amount of value for that leader and the ripples that they create so show care.

Help people stay focused and we all have to help people move from being in fear to leading on purpose.

I want to thank my colleagues for your valuable time today. Thank you for joining me in this really interesting session. I want to thank all of you who are dialed in, or listening or will listen on the recordings. We really appreciate you taking time

Thanks, everybody.

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