When a business faces a crisis, whether brought on by a global pandemic or budget cuts or loss of a major revenue source, leaders may be asked to sacrifice some of their personal time or energy to help see the business through the crisis. But what happens when leaders resist that effort? Does the company demand the effort and potentially lose that employee or create a disgruntled employee?
The better approach is to get buy-in from your leaders through some open, honest discussion of what leadership in a crisis looks like. If you haven’t read the part one of this topic, read it first and then come back to this post, which discusses the second of two meetings.
Your first meeting asked some critical open-ended questions to share ideas and hear how people view the role and responsibilities of leaders in a crisis. The second meeting focuses on agreeing to expectations about how leaders of your organization should behave in a crisis.
After the first meeting, take all of the white board notes and identify any success criteria or boundaries regarding leadership expectations that must be met. These are non-negotiables and need to be embraced for the organization to fulfill its mission and goals. For example, you might include the following expectations:
- A leader from some department must be at each work site when workers are there, even after hours.
- All emergencies must be responded to in person regardless of the time of day.
- Only designated, named leaders can respond to specific types of emergencies.
- Client calls must be returned in 12 hours.
- No one will travel more than 40% of the time.
- We expect leaders to work an average of 55 hours a week during a crisis.
- We expect leaders to take at least one full weekend off each month during a crisis.
Your specific list may look very different based on the discussion among your leaders. In the examples above, notice that some boundaries ensure the work gets done while others make sure no leader is taken advantage of and that the organization values their health.
This approach must include defining those boundaries and discussing the expectations you have as an organization. If you go through the motions of this exercise and don’t set and communicate clear boundaries but later end up requiring then, your team is likely to feel manipulated. They’ll ask, “Why did we waste our time with this?” and you will lose credibility.
Facilitating the Second Meeting
In the second meeting you can and should be more of a facilitator. Be very clear about the objectives and share the proposed boundaries up front. Then ask them to consider what the expectations should be moving forward. Write them on the board, gain agreement, and move on. It is important that you define agreement as “I can live with it and support it” not “I think it is best.”
If someone raises a suggestion you can’t live with, ask yourself, “Can the organization live with it?” If it is an organization operations issue, you should have created a boundary on that. If it isn’t, it may be more of a values or perspective issue that you will need to move on from.
For example, let’s say someone doesn’t need to work 12 hours a day to fulfill their responsibilities, but you think they should to demonstrate their commitment. In that case, either they don’t have enough work to do or you may need to reconsider the reasoning behind your expectation. Maybe you change the expectation or maybe you look at temporarily shifting some duties during a crisis so that leaders are working 10 hours on average instead of one working eight and others working 12. Remember that we’re talking about boundaries and expectations during a crisis, not what the organization expects under normal circumstances.
Identifying How You Can Help
Part of the discussion with your leaders needs to center around how upper management can support them during this time:
- What is making their job harder?
- Are there obstacles that you can remove?
- What would help them reduce stress?
- Are there resources they need to help them through it, such as counseling or other support?
With some focused attention on what leadership and sacrifice looks like in a time of crisis, your organization can emerge stronger from any crisis, whether it’s a global pandemic, a natural disaster, or a funding issue only affecting your organization. As with any aspect of leadership, working through a process to set clear expectations and then holding people accountable to those expectations is a critical step.