Juan Pablo Gonzalez Winklmeier
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Expert Contributor

Leadership in Times of Crisis

By Juan Pablo Gonzalez Winklmeier | Wed, 10/07/2020 - 09:00

The title of this article may sound somewhat threatening, even terrifying and at least, alarming, so it would be worth starting with the definition of crisis. 

There are many definitions, but in the end there is quite a convergence in the meaning of crisis: 

  • Crisis during a process is a negative change, a complicated, difficult and unstable situation. 
  • A serious and decisive situation that jeopardizes the creation of an issue or a process.

In short, we are talking about a negative situation that affects a certain process and what better example than the global situation we are experiencing, a product of the pandemic of COVID-19 coronavirus, where many daily educational, employment and family processes have obviously had negative effects.

Companies have also been affected by this crisis and today, in particular, are not exempt from all the complications that the virus has brought. The way of working has changed, and not only in the sense of quarantine and home office. There have been some changes in all business processes. But there are people behind each of these processes, and these people are those who every day face uncertainty: frustration, fear of losing their job, or just not knowing what's going to happen the next day. The role of leaders in an organization takes on extreme relevance precisely at this moment.

The key questions are: What exactly is the leader’s role? What skills are most important in a crisis situation? To my mind, the role can be summarized as "communicating safety," but what does it mean in practical terms to communicate safety?

The first thing is to understand that it is a communication role and I have identified four characteristics that support this function.

The first feature is trust. A leader's role is to convey and communicate confidence in the decisions that have been made by the company. In the sense of believing that the choices made are the right ones to cope with and eventually overcome the crisis, it is about promoting security. In continuing with the defined action plan, we must guide and support the staff.

Opportunity is the second attribute. Time pressure is one of the features of a crisis, and in that sense, we have to have the ability to make timely decisions as leaders. We will not always have all the information or the time to make the best decision, and it is the role of the leader to form a team on which to rely at the right time and make the best decision. It is important to emphasize that with the information restrictions, it is worth asking for help or being honest, but what is not worth is the paralysis.

This leads us to the third characteristic, which is facing uncertainty. Being a leader is not about being a superhero or an all-knowing. It is about being human, with all that that implies, including the limitations of knowledge, emotions and the different abilities of each one. Facing uncertainty starts by accepting that we don't know everything but assuming as a leader that we have to make decisions thinking about the future of the company and the well-being of people. We can be afraid and nervous about what is coming, but let's remember that the objective is to transmit security and that is why trust, the opportunity to make decisions and to provide information to others are crucial.

This fourth feature is sharing information. This finally allows us to move in a similar scenario for all, where doubts, fears, but also decisions and courses of action are known by all. This will generate a team that shares values, shares objectives and that will be able to generate ideas and take joint actions with a common goal: that at the end of the day, we will overcome the crisis.

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by Juan Pablo Gonzalez Winklmeier