Leading In Crisis: Don't Freak Out, Find Out
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
A global pandemic is changing the world around us. As an agency owner, wife and mother of three small children, I was not prepared for how quickly and dramatically this would happen.
This situation is unlike any other because of two realities: No one is exempt and every business is affected. The world is in this together.
I’m naturally a very passionate person who thrives on systems, routine and structure. I live by the rule to plan with your head and play with your heart. So, the first few days were heavy for me - I felt claustrophobic. It was like a dark cloud was looming over me constantly. But after I made it through the first few days, I began to navigate what this means for my agency business, employees, and our clients.
Here’s what I have found to light my path forward.
1. Don't panic.
It’s easier said than done. I can’t say I nailed this one at first. After some reflection, these words came to mind: “Just do the next right thing.” A mentor gave me this advice once when I was struggling with something. So, I shifted into taking things hour by hour, decision by decision, and day by day. Just getting to the next right thing has been my main goal each day. When I made that shift, the heaviness began to lighten and my head became clearer. I was now in a much better place to effectively lead the agency and serve our clients.
2. Get Real.
Avoiding panic doesn’t mean ignoring the truth. The sooner you can come to terms with reality, the better off you will be - even if you’re uncertain about what reality is. Reset your baseline expectations to what you know for sure. The sooner you shake the expectations you had before the crisis, the sooner you can recalibrate yourself mentally. And as soon as you mentally reset, only then can you begin to effectively operate in a mid and post-crisis environment.
3. Re-strategize. Now.
“Whatever we thought we were going to do this year has suddenly become unrealistic. We have to re-evaluate everything through a completely new lens.” That's exactly what I told the team two days into quarantine. I tasked them to go back to each client’s brand strategy - the core purpose of their business - and define what that means now. How do we deliver on the brand’s purpose and promise of what they will bring to the world now that the world has completely changed? That is the new brief.
4. Lean into your People. Hard.
Next, let them do what you hired them to do. It's no different than any assignment or brief, except the stakes are higher. It's moments like these where the essential separates from the expendable. Empower, encourage and trust your people. Make sure they know that you believe in them and that you need them. Don’t hold back in times of crisis.
5. Stay connected.
We’re in an industry designed to connect people to ideas, people to brands, and people to people. Being separated and isolated is not easy. Everyone handles things differently, so be sure you connect on an individual basis too. Internally, we’ve been video conferencing several times a day. Simply seeing everyone’s faces makes a world of difference!
For our clients, I created an outreach plan on day one of quarantine to connect with every client business lead - collectively and one-on-one. I wanted them to know we are the ones they can count on in a time of uncertainty.
6. Build Momentum
On our first working day after transitioning to working remotely, I felt like all of the momentum we’d gained this year was gone. Realize that there will be success and failure as everyone adjusts. But, with the successes and failures of each week behind you, move on into the next week and keep making great work, keep serving clients well, and keep showing up for each other. Keep up the momentum. I believe that if we do, when the time comes for the world to get back on track, we will not be the ones lurching forward trying to gain speed, we’ll have already hit our stride.
Is this something I’m mastering amid this chaos? No. But I’m taking it day by day, understanding that we will have to continue to flex. I’m hoping some of you will find solidarity in this personal story.