How to Lead Through Dark Times

Time to Read: 2 mins...   

When you are dealing with sudden changes, your people are looking for answers and support in two main areas:

HEAD – what’s the problem and what’s our plan?

As a leader, your people look to you to be clearheaded, have a steady hand, and show the way forward.

Questions your people will want answers to are:

  • What exactly is the problem? What are the facts? What are we facing?
  • What’s our plan? How are we going to deal with the problem?
  • Will we be able to adapt and adjust the plan as needed based on new information?
  • What about our current priorities and deadlines? For a period of time we may need to delay some of our initiatives in order to deal on the problems at hand. What do you want me to focus on?

HEART – am I going to be ok and will we all get through this ok?

In addition to satisfying the logical, head questions – your people need emotional support and reassurance.

  • Together we will figure this out and make it through – give them hope.
  • We don’t have all the answers right now, but we are resourceful and will find the answers as we move forward.
  • You are smart, capable and resilient.
  • Acknowledge them for small “wins” that help move us forward.

The Essence of Your Message to Your Team is…

  • We have a new short-term goal: To navigate and exit this situation safely
  • You are not alone – we will get through this together
  • I have complete confidence in you all. You have my full support. I have your back.

Action Steps: 

  • Define the problem as it impacts your team/organization
  • Gather whatever data is needed that will help shape your action plan
  • Involve the team in putting the plan together. This will increase employee engagement and ownership of the problem and actions to be taken.
  • Be calm and steady throughout.
  • Be reassuring and supportive in substantive ways. Not a time for backslapping.
  • Over communicate. Keep everyone posted on developments and new information.
  • Encourage people to express how they are feeling – their concerns and fears. Possibly engage a skilled facilitator to lead group discussions.  Expressing themselves in a facilitated group setting often results in people realizing that they are not alone, have shared concerns and that they can lean on each other more to make it through.
  • Take the time to listen. When people don’t have an outlet for their concerns, they tend to deepen their anxiety, inflame the rumor mill and back off of fully engaging in the work needed to solve the problem.
  • And…take care of yourself. Leading in dark times is exhausting. Draw on your health and spiritual resources to help you be a strong beacon for your team.
  • Possibly the most important thing you can do is to lead, listen and show you care.

What has been your experience in leading or being led through dark times? – add your comments below

Charles St.John

  • Dennis says:

    I wish I had this advice back in 9/11 to help our employees deal with the emotional side of tragedy. Now during this current Covid 19 outbreak this advice is even more important because it is such an unknown. Thanks Charles. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

    • Charles St.John says:

      Thanks Dennis!

  • Eric Siler says:

    “Possibly the most important thing you can do is to lead, listen and show you care.” Excellent advice! Thank you!

    • Charles St.John says:

      And it’s good to remember to “lead, listen and show you care” all the time – not just during a pandemic. But we get so busy that we forget to do so. Sometimes our jammed to-do list gets in the way. Thanks Eric!

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