Be emotionally available. First and foremost, your people need to know that you understand what they are going through. As the crisis drags on, remember to keep checking in often, monitoring moods, and paying attention to what they are talking about. That way, you will be able to anticipate and directly acknowledge their worries and fears, even if you don’t have all the answers.
Separate fact from fiction. Help your people not get distracted by false information. If a rumor surfaces, ask where it comes from until you know the source. If your people are making unfounded assumptions – optimistic or pessimistic – explore what they are basing their assumptions on and help them see the bigger picture.
Be an optimistic realist. Focus your people on what really is and is not likely to change. Challenge them to find realistic ways of making lemonade out of lemons. But don’t sugar-coat the situation, or people will lose faith in you. Help them see the areas to which they are still able to contribute.
Temper their urge to over-react. Help keep things as stable as possible. Crisis brings out the latent manic-depressive in many people. They are up, they are down, they are all around. It’s your job to stay calm and talk people off the ledge. This applies to you too! Strive to strike the right balance. If you are too emotional, there is no security. If you are too calm, they will think you are not taking the crisis seriously enough.
Figure out what is still worth doing. With the pandemic proving every meeting doesn’t have to be held in person, figure out what aspects of your business’ crisis operations are worth keeping. Regardless of how bad things look, there still have to be battles worth fighting, even if it is just to get a personal sense of closure. So figure out what those must-win battles are and focus your people on them.
Focus on the short term. While many lament that businesses have too much short-term orientation, a crisis is the time when it makes sense to focus on what can be done now. Ask what hat are we going to do in the next week, two weeks, month? Focus on what can be kept and what can be scrapped.
Coaching for motivation
Critically, as you coach, your people stay motivated, focus first on understanding what is demotivating for them, and adjust your approach accordingly. To do this, it helps to have a framework for understanding motivation and the implications for leading during a crisis. The one we have found to be most useful for coaching in crisis situations was developed by the motivational psychologist David McClelland and distinguishes among peoples’ needs for power, achievement, and affiliation, as summarized in the table below.