How to Lead During a Sh*tstorm

If there’s ever been a time when people need good leaders, woah buddy, this is it. COVID-19 is a crash course in crisis leadership and here’s what I’ve learned.

If there’s ever been a time when people need good leaders, woah buddy, this is it. COVID-19 is a crash course in crisis leadership and here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Always be kind.
    No matter who, no matter what, no matter when — every encounter is with someone struggling with something. A sick family member, lost income, depression, anxiety, the list goes on and on. From surprise DoorDash gift cards and swag drop-offs to Joey Time and our #spiritsup Slack channel, we’re finding new and creative ways to sprinkle the team with kindness.

  2. Assume good intent.
    See point #1. People are distracted. Odds are very good they’re not intentionally ignoring you, their attention is being pulled in ten thousand directions. (This is especially true if they have kids.) We’ve instituted clear and realistic expectations around how quickly anyone can expect to get input from another team member. Good intent, boundaries and respect.

  3. Show emotion.
    Sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re sad, sometime we ping pong back and forth so much that our necks hurt. Show your team your pain, and your joy. They’ll be much more likely to share their challenges with you and that’s critical for leading and growing a team.  

  4. Be f’ing honest.
    Ain’t nobody got time for sugarcoating. In moments of crisis, clear communication is absolutely critical. As long as you’re following #1 and #2, radical candor is the policy. When something isn’t working, I speak up quickly. Honest conversations are a platform for finding solutions — whether it’s new team roles that align with professional development goals or an adjusted cadence to increase efficiency — honesty enables us to pivot quickly.

  5. Know your limits.
    You’re a leader but you’re also a human, subject to the confines of time like all other mere mortals. Overcommitment sets you up to fail and in times of frenzy, we must decide what’s most important and focus there. I’ve explicitly communicated with the team about what my priorities are, what they can reasonably expect from me and when. Delegating the rest or letting it go.

  6. Say sorry when you screw up.
    We all make mistakes (see point #5) and someone is almost always watching. This is your chance to model accountability for your team. Own the slip-up, say your sorry and do better next time. If it’s what we ask of our teams, make sure we do it ourselves.

  7. Ask for help.
    We all have strengths. Hopefully, you’ve built a team that covers your weaknesses. (If not, add that to your to-do list.) This is not the time to be a hero and struggle through for the sake of doing it on your own. If there’s someone better suited to a task, give it to them. Push yourself to grow your team.

  8. Stick to your values.
    Ask yourself, what would Dolly do? If you’re not living your organization's mission, vision and promise with every move you make, you’re doing it wrong. Moral compasses were built for moments like these. We’ve taken advantage of this time to refocus on our mission, vision and principles as a team.

  9. Take the feedback.
    There’s always something to learn. If you’ve pivoted to a virtual model like we have, being overly communicative is critical. Setting an example for your team of how to accept and incorporate constructive criticism will return dividends on the investment. After a few weeks of remote work, we sent an anonymous survey to the team for feedback on things going well and areas needing improvement. The opportunity to engage employees and let their voice be heard is invaluable.  

  10. Give and accept grace.
    Just do it. Trust me, it makes all the difference.