When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the business world slowed right down. Millions of businesses in Australia and worldwide took a hard blow following the strict government measures to control the outbreak. And three years later, many entrepreneurs are still grappling with the pandemic’s aftermath.
Many thought the pandemic would be the most formidable business challenge for a while. But worrying developments such as the looming global recession, record-high inflation, and the Russia-Ukraine war have sparked new fears among entrepreneurs. The truth is, there will always be another “pandemic” that no one sees coming. The trick is to emerge wiser and stronger from one challenge to face the next. To that end, here are five timeless leadership lessons learned from recent crises:
Panicking is a natural human response to abrupt and disastrous change. But fear, worry, and anxiety are counterproductive during a crisis and have no place in leadership. Panic clouds your judgment and causes you to lose focus on your work and instead fixate on things you cannot control. Plus, a panicking leader is a bad image in any organisation.
Rather than getting caught up in the chaos, keep your cool, collect your wits, and start planning a way forward. Don’t panic; prepare.
Overcoming a challenge means accepting an unfortunate situation and working with whatever is available to get around it. You must also take a hard look at what the future might hold.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example; it became clear in early 2020 that the non-essential workforce would be grounded indefinitely. Rather than challenge that reality or “hope for the best,” figuring out how to get the job done without the traditional 9-to-5 workday was more productive. As a result, many early adopters of remote work powered through the labour crisis and now have well-established hybrid work cultures.
In times of crisis, speculation, uncertainty, and fear naturally run high. Communicating clearly and candidly is the only way to maintain calm and peace of mind. Explain to everyone in the organisation, from employees and stakeholders to investors, precisely what’s happening and how you plan to deal with the situation. Lay down the hard truths and work from there. Company-wide transparency and openness make rallying troops behind a common crisis management strategy easier.
By mid-2020, 56% of Australian SMBs had pivoted their business models to get through the pandemic. Some entrepreneurs switched to new offerings and operations. At the same time, others launched completely new ventures to survive and flourish during the crisis.
The lesson here is that flexibility and creativity are crucial for business survival. As a business leader, it’s essential to stay open and be on the lookout for new possibilities. Position yourself to quickly identify and seize emerging opportunities to avert challenges and grow the business.
A good leader recognises that tough times are tough on everyone, especially the employees. For instance, the onset of the COVID-19 crisis put tremendous pressure on working-class citizens who quickly came to terms with all the radical changes and a deadly virus on the loose. But on the other hand, the lockdowns left many feeling isolated, powerless, and depressed.
Sympathise with your staff during challenging times by ensuring they work in a healthy and supportive environment. Make a habit of checking in on each employee about their well-being, not just work. Ultimately, you want your entire staff to feel valued within a caring community.
Survival is a big part of business management. And it comes down to cleverly navigating tough times and emerging from the other end with handy experience and insights into crisis management. It’s a suite of critical leadership traits that determine a business’s resilience in the face of adversity.
While leadership in difficult times can be daunting and stressful, it can also be an opportunity for leaders to demonstrate their strengths, build trust and credibility, and create a positive impact that lasts beyond the crisis.
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