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How To Lead In Times Of Crisis – An EU Collaborative Resource

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We are all living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment and it’s at times like these that leadership quality is tested. Despite the many negative impacts caused by the spread of COVID-19, the virus has also accelerated the pace of positive change. Traditional and old-fashioned businesses have been made to embrace a more modern approach, for example through a new reliance on technology and a need to work remotely. In this way, crisis creates opportunity. Now is a time to step up and demonstrate the type of leader you are or want to be. 

Be Prepared 

The time to determine your crisis response as a leader is not when the crisis strikes.  

It’s incredibly important to be surrounded by committed colleagues who are willing to embrace change with you. Building and nurturing a great team is an ongoing responsibility, not one that can be relegated to crisis response. Being adaptable is a core leadership quality and will enable anyone in a leadership role to find opportunities and motivate others to come on the journey with them.  

Surviving Crisis; A Leader’s Guide 

The following points address fundamental aspects of crisis response from the perspective of a leader.  

1. Remember, a successful organization is like a living organism; it is necessary to adapt to succeed.  

2. Be humble; listen to everyone no matter where they are in the hierarchy. Listen to hear and understand, not just to respond. Collaboration is key to finding solutions and keeping employees and colleagues motivated towards a common aim. Take this chance to pause and empower others.  

3. Reassess your priorities; in light of the new situation, what needs to change? 

4. Adjust your speed and observe competitors; identify where you need to move quickly and where you can wait. see how your competitors are dealing with the situation and what challenges they’re facing. Use these insights to inform your response.  

5. Communicate clearly; a united team can weather a crisis. Everyone should be on the same page with a shared understanding of the strategy, goals, potential weaknesses and awareness of what remains uncertain or likely to change. Transparency and knowledge will be a great asset and enable organizational agility and resilience.  

6. Protect your core values; make sure you preserve core values, use them as a basis for your strategy and make sure they are present in communications. 

7. Find the silver lining; try to focus on the positives, there are always opportunities to be found. 

8. Think creatively; what new products or services could you offer to adapt to the new market conditions? Re-think what you do and how you do it and look beyond the short-term. Make the most of the infrastructure available and do not be limited by what or how you have done things before. Do this with your team; involve them in reinventing your work, products, services and processes. 

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9. Have a contingency plan; in crisis there are a lot of unknown factors. Keep different options on the table so you can be nimble and react quickly whatever the situation.  

10. Put together a response team; mobilize a dedicated resource to determine how best to respond to customers. Communicate with key customers and ask how you can help them. 

11. Motivate those around you; when there’s dramatic change and uncertainty team members will need support to feel they are still working towards something of value. Offer more encouragement and thanks than usual. Make sure there is a clear plan that the team can deliver together. If business as usual cannot continue, are you able to plan for the future or analyze past work to usefully inform future projects?  

12. Put your people first; offer support and encouragement to your team, they will perform better. 

13. Establish trust; with the sudden move to remote working it is more important than ever to build trust between leaders and employees. This works both ways – leaders need to encourage employees to trust them by becoming more approachable, human, resourceful and communicative.

14. Stay in touch; it’s more important than ever to let team members know you are there for them. Catch up as a team regularly and maintain social as well as work relationships. If your team is not able to work through the crisis (for example, if they have been put on furlough) stay in touch to ensure they remain motivated to return once the crisis has passed. Continue to support them and nurture the relationship. 

15. Prioritize safety; people are the most important asset of every company. Make sure your employees know that their safety and that of their families comes first. Give them time to attend to any arrangements and personal challenges before returning to work so that they come back feeling confident and energized, rather than nervous and distracted.  

16. Lead by example; demonstrate the behavior you want to see – remain calm, focused, agile and optimistic. 

A Network For Success 

The insights shared in this post are a summary of the many valuable inputs shared by alumni from around the world and across industries, during the first series of Virtual Alumni Reunions. 

110 alumni from countries including India, Germany, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and the U.S.A. participated in optimistic discussions about the role of the leader in uncertain times and contributed their ideas and expertise to creating this survival guide.  

This was the first set of events in what promises to become a valuable series of collaborative and constructive virtual reunions. EU alumni were joined by current students hoping to learn from the experiences and insights of the global business leaders in attendance. Conversations were moderated by Patricia Soler, an HR expert and EU lecturer in HR Management for the MBA program, she is also Managing Director and Co-Founder at Seeding Energy. Anna Wlodek, Head of Alumni and Corporate Relations at EU Business School hosted the events.  

For a business education that will prepare you with the leadership skills and agility to navigate any challenges you face, discover our highly ranked programs and apply today.  

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