Leading Through COVID-19: Making and Communicating a Plan During Crisis

Planning and communicating well results in more effective leadership during crisis.

This is part two of our multi-part blog and video series, Leading Teams in Times of Crisis and Immense Change.

On the best of days, effective leadership can be a challenge. Inspiring staff, building teams, and managing resources all play a part in effective and impactful leadership. In times of crisis, such as this COVID-19 outbreak, many of the traditional rules seem to go out the window as we grapple with the reality of our present situation.

If this is the case for you, take a step back and use these suggestions as a benchmark for leading effectively during this time of crisis.

Acknowledge Today’s Reality

Time for a reality check. Yes, it’s really happening. It’s not a dream; the crisis is upon you. Denial of present circumstances is not an option. Teams and patients are looking for strong leadership during any time of change or crisis.

Asking the expected why questions is only human, but it really doesn’t move us forward as we lead our teams. It does no good to waste time and energy by taking action without a plan. Set the past aside, own your present circumstance, and embrace that things will be different in the future. Look for ways to innovate and inspire the what can be. Your success is before you, not behind you.

Don’t Panic—Breathe

In times of crisis, many leaders simply freeze or start doing multiple things without complete plans. Our reactions are often the result of a lack of forethought and planning. Now is the time to be fearless. STOP, be still for a moment, and simply breathe. Find a quiet place, assess your present situation, and identify the options available to you and your team.

Come out of this quiet time with resolve not to overreact, but to calmly and methodically build confidence in all you lead by establishing a plan. If you don’t panic, your team is less likely to panic as well. This may initially seem like an unattainable goal, but we all need to start somewhere, and this is a great way to bring a sense of calm to a tumultuous setting.

Communicate Early and Often

It sounds obvious, but it’s not. In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to communicate freely and openly with those you lead. At the onset, identify the key items you as a leader wish to communicate. Over-communication is not a problem in times of crisis, and multiple forms of communication are ok. For example, you might hold daily briefings, post a daily memo, email an update, and make rounds to touch base with both staff and patients.

Provide ways to bring remote teams together, as isolation is not our friend in communicating common messages. Remember that communication is a dialogue. Leaders also need to practice active listening, as your implementation teams might be hesitant to share their true thoughts and feelings. Precise information, delivered at the right time, will enhance your team’s engagement and trust.

Take and Expect Responsibility

As leaders, we must own our behaviors and decisions, as well as the outcomes associated with them. Setting personal goals and objectives and confirming all team members know what’s desired and expected is critical. This includes ourselves first and foremost. The worst thing we can do is to deflect, shift blame, and not take full responsibility. Your teams will watch how you own what you do. With you as the example, they’ll also feel comfortable doing the same.

A recent example of these steps in action is the 2019 implementation of PDPM. Organizations that followed these simple steps had potential for better outcomes. They accepted PDPM was really going to happen, acted quickly to get plans in place, educated and engaged their teams, and created processes to identify gaps and evaluate progress.

There is no single playbook for leaders to follow during these times, but roadmaps do exist and we should follow them when possible. When all the world feels out of control, leaders must practice self-leadership first. Take control of your reality, plans, and actions, and you will be a role model for others to follow. Remember that this crisis will eventually pass. Now is the time to positively influence those you lead and cement your legacy as a leader.

The challenges ahead may be hard, but by remembering to start with these simple steps, you’ll not only pursue better outcomes from the crisis, but bring inspiration to those you lead.