Arlin Sorensen: Leading in Times of Uncertainty and Crisis

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This article was contributed by Arlin Sorensen, VP Ecosystem Evangelism at ConnectWise

During my 42-year business career, I have experienced my share of economic downturns, disasters both natural and man-made and simply general business hiccups. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique crisis for businesses, but leadership tactics need to remain the same. For example, in 1977, at the start of my farming career, I learned the value of advice from an external expert on insurance before I lost crops due to a drought. During the Great Recession in 2008, we learned to hire executive leaders with various strengths and leveraged previous experience that would help us weather the economic downturn. When it came time to rebrand my business as a managed service provider in 2011, I lost excellent clients and great employees. It was the right move in order to keep pace with the changing market demand needed to stay in business.

Whether you are facing an economic crisis or a shift in business focus, there are plenty of things business leaders can do to instill confidence in the people around them. Below are 10 tips I have gathered over the course of my career. Hopefully, they can help you and your executive team navigate the current situation we find ourselves in. 

1. Self-care is important for leadership

The most important thing you can do for yourself is get enough sleep, proper and regular exercise, put down the electronics, and spend time with family and friends. Self-care is vital to greater success. You cannot effectively lead your organisation through a crisis if you yourself are not well. The stress of trying to lead an organisation through a crisis without self-care can render you ineffective. We must provide some rest and relief to set ourselves free from a consistently stressful and connected environment. 

2. Rely on your team

Unless you are a micro business, you have other people in your organisation to rely on. My experience is that people step up when the going gets tough, if we let them. If you’re being a super human action figure and trying to solve the world’s problems on your own, they can only stand back and watch. If you bring your team into whatever discussion you are having, allowing them to see planning and execution strategies, you will see how more valuable your team members are to you and know what they are capable of.

3. Planning and preparation are key

Some of the worst business decisions are made when emotions direct the outcome. Planning and preparing ahead of a crisis is one of the most important things you can do as a business leader. The best way to plan and prepare is to brainstorm actionable strategies with your leadership team. Walk through a number of “what-if” scenarios that can be rapidly executed at a moment's notice. This helps you and your team make fact-based decisions, not decisions grounded in emotion. Without proper planning and preparation, you might have a knee- reaction to a crisis without thought as to how it might impact the organisation. Proper planning and preparation prevents this.

4. Communicate carefully

Communication is crucial, but it can also be the ‘Achilles Heel’ of leadership. It is irresponsible to think that teams and clients automatically know what to do to help them succeed - it just doesn’t happen. If you want your teams and clients to succeed, communicate truthful information to avoid them having to guess and fill voids with inaccurate information. When people are under stress and anxiety, clarity of information is essential at the very front end so information is not misconstrued.

5. Personal ideals can be beneficial

Some people tend to leave their ideals at the door when they are at work in favour of a more professional demeanor. Whether personal practices to stay healthy, organised, composed in stressful situations, or even motivated - leaving those at the door means losing a critical part of who you are and makes you far less able to lead well. Don’t dismiss those ideals and standards, especially in the face of a crisis.

6. Use the tools and tricks of the trade around you

Even when things are working well, we don’t take time to slow down and really understand and get to know each other. But in stressful and uncertain situations, different personalities and work styles can clash, because various personalities tend to respond differently. So we have to be sure to connect with everyone. A leader takes responsibility to meet people where they are and communicate in ways they understand. This means understanding different work styles, preferences and attitudes. 

7. Use resources - partners, peers and external experts

Every good business leader understands that overcoming adversity is not something that can be done alone - we don’t have all the answers. I have sought the advice of external experts, hired people with different skills sets and utilised peer groups for further advice from other business leaders throughout my career. Far too many business leaders fail to utilise external experts and peer groups. There are peer groups for every industry and some peer groups are integrated with other industries. Joining a peer group, like IT Nation Evolve, has tremendous benefits - they provide members with enhanced leadership and management skills, strategies for sustainable growth, advice for attracting talent and a range of other benefits.

8. Study the facts and be transparent about them

Facts or fact-finding during difficult times is crucial. People will have more trust and faith in a leader when that leader knows and understands truth and facts. However, they will quickly stop having faith in a leader if they don’t trust the information. You have to know the truth and be transparent in sharing it. At times, leaders try to protect people by not sharing information they know, or only sharing a partial or somewhat guided set of facts. In times of crisis, people who are in search of truth will quickly lose that trust in a source if they can see through the attempts to hide information.

9. Win the battle, reward your team

As we navigate this pandemic, there will be a continued need for leaders of your team to make sacrifices in order to ensure business continuity. This is what leaders do. Whether it is working more hours, taking a temporary or permanent pay cut, doing tasks that are outside their job description to fill needed services--whatever it may be--you’ll likely be asking people to do more. Incentivise and reward those who made a sacrifice in order for the team to win.

10. Don’t look back

The best news in all of this is that COVID-19 will pass eventually. There will always be dark and difficult times, but there will also always be light at the end of the tunnel in some way. We frantically search for hope and we need it now. Our employees and clients need to see hope to make it through a crisis. We are also very optimistic in our view of the possibilities in navigating a crisis. You likely won’t be completely accurate about your optimism, but it gives people something to work towards. But you need to be able to lead first.

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