Leadership decision-making in the time of the COVID-19

KarenBusiness success, Leadership

Today’s post is a guest post from strategy consultant and crisis response expert Catherine Saul.

This last week or two have felt like a year for a lot of people. Both personally and professionally.

Personally, it’s frightening. Everyone’s story is different, but also the same. The fears people are having are about the fundamental things we and our loved ones need – health and security.

At the same time, many of you have businesses you need to run. Some of them are essential to helping fight the spread of COVID-19. Some of them provide us with the basics we need for daily living. 

Even for those of you who had plans in place, it’s extremely difficult managing in a situation with so many unknowns and such volatility. You don’t know what’s going to happen with your people. And your sales, raw material supply and ability to produce are up in the air.

You’ve likely made some difficult decisions in the past week(s) and there will be more to come. While this crisis is bigger than anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, the principles for leadership decision making during a crisis hold true.

From my experience, here are some of the most important decisions business leaders need to make in a time of crisis: 

1.      The first principle of decision making should be to put people’s safety and well-being first – it’s the right thing to do, and people will remember what you did or didn’t do.

2.      Go fast and be nimble – you’re going to be wrong about some things, do it quickly and adjust as required. If you have good guiding principles for decision making, you’ll be less wrong.

3.      Focus on the most important decisions and information – this isn’t the time for new complex models and big decks. Sometimes the decision needs to be “just do it” or made based on back of the envelope math. 

4.      Let go of unnecessary constraints – normally you wouldn’t have most of your people work from home, share resources with a competitor, or have a tech company help service your customers. But it may make sense now.

5.      Give clear direction and have a clear chain of command – you want input, but it’s not the time for management by consensus. People generally want more directive leadership in times of uncertainty. They want to know who to go to get decisions made.  

6.      Over-communicate – let people (employees, customers, suppliers, and others you impact and interact with) know what you’re doing and how it may impact them. Constantly. Even if it’s to say nothing has changed.

7.       Be honest and transparent – sometimes you don’t know the answer, or you had to make a really tough decision. It’s okay to say so. My experience in crisis situations is people don’t expect perfection. They want strong, capable, compassionate leaders making the best decisions they can, and sharing honestly and quickly with them.

Things will become clearer – for better or worse – as the weeks progress. As a leader in your business, having clear rules of engagement will help you as you manage your business through this incredibly challenging time.