Leadership in a Crisis: Coronavirus Crisis Management Strategies in Under 3-Minutes

I have had my share of professional crisis to manage in a 30+ year career in industry. 

However, nothing compares to what we are experiencing right now with the coronavirus pandemic.  A year ago, in helping a major university with a scandal that rocked their world, I volunteered to formulate a program, using my experience, which we internally called Crisis Leadership: The New Normal?

As I use the material now with coaching clients (former and current) and any friends who will listen, I find myself apologizing that this is too simplistic.  However, I am told by them to “button it,” and it’s helping.  I guess it’s beneficial to have some frameworks against which to plot their current experiences.  So, I am happy to share a little bit of that with you.

When it comes to leadership in a crisis…

It is much smarter to prepare for and prevent a crisis than repair and repent. 

I am not sure from whom I borrowed that phrase. One of the most important things we all learn when going through a crisis is the cost is always high and unnecessary. However, if handled poorly, the costs and risks will increase exponentially. I imagine this sounds familiar to you if you have experienced a crisis.  We also learned that the impact (its power and force) of any crisis, though it may feel like an event or a relatively discrete moment in time, will persist far longer in terms of impact including loss of reputation, increased cost of regulation and compliance and now, of course, lives. 

It is not too late to do your best as a leader! Can I give you a few pointers?  If I can’t, we will talk about that leadership problem later.

We are taught as leaders to take charge, be at the front of the pack. So, what we often see is leaders who tend to exhibit excessive confidence in how they manage the moment, often with minimal preparation or study.  This can be a lonely place to be and is dangerous to you and others.

You can still prepare to be a better leader in this moment.  While I can’t get it all done, in this 3-minute leadership in a crisis education bite, what I can give you is:

  • a definition of a crisis (thanks to Pearson & Clair),
  • the 3 phases of a crisis, and
  • a competency to quickly explore and eliminate

So, what is an actual crisis?

When developing this program originally, I did not have an operational definition in my back pocket.  I had examples and illustrations but not really a definition.  Let me share one that I found useful. 

A crisis is a situation or event that is likely to be:

  • high in consequence
  • low in probability
  • high in ambiguity relative to solutions

I am going to assume that with the coronavirus pandemic, we can all agree that we have these 3 factors today in abundance. 

  • Consequences: Consequences are dire and have already impacted lives and families around the globe.
  • Probabilities: We can debate probabilities of this disease and contagion factors. However, from my perspective it appears we did not think this was probable at this magnitude and this might be the toughest challenge of all.  How long will this go on and how will we recover?
  • Ambiguity of Solutions: It seems to me we have in great quantity ambiguity of solutions:  how we respond, where supplies can be secured, what will work for containment, steps to mitigate, medications to use, vaccine development and who’s in control of what decisions. The list is endless.

We agree it is a crisis, so now what?

These 3 elements can help you to contain and focus the conversations you are likely having daily.

The Phases of Crisis Management During the Covid-19 Pandemic

No doubt we are in the acute phase of this pandemic, and yes, there are 2 other phases (pre and post).  Many organizations have risk plans, conduct annual environmental scans and even drill practice, as part of their leadership in a crisis strategy.  Use that experience and relish it if you have it in place.  In the heat of the moment you might not remember, ‘oh my god we modeled a similar scenario.’  There might be insights to revisit.  We have heard that the CDC or maybe it was FEMA has a 400+ page resource guide for such an event we are experiencing – I personally hope someone is using it.

Acute Phase

In the acute phase you should have a response team not a response individual!!!  Even if you are the sole leader of your practice/department/business, we are all in this together.  If your “go to” leadership style is to take on too much alone, this will not work.  Don’t shield people from the truth, don’t limit a spokesperson to one individual.  Keep messages simple but frequent, and always let people know when they will hear from you next.  Ask a lot of questions, keep lines of communications open and listen as much as you speak. 

Pre and Post Phases

We will discuss the pre and post crisis management strategies and phases another time, but we are all learning a lot!  My greatest caution is to stay present on the crisis. No one wants to be where we are, so natural inclination is to talk about what’s next: when operations are back to normal or when the economy really turns back on.  Stay present. 

Lastly you have a lot of leadership strengths that will help you.  In our original program, we identified 16 crisis leadership traits to cultivate and 2 traits to avoid at all cost.  In this limited time lets go straight to the one trait that will PUNISH you and those around you:

Don’t be a Blocked Personal Learner: resisting new information, confident only with your current skills, unwilling to try new approaches, certain that you have it all figured out.  So how do you know if you have this deathly trait?  Quite honestly, others can tell you but if this is a problem for you but they are likely to fear you as you have more power or status or degrees or accreditations. 

Have you ever been called a perfectionist?  Does the “stubborn” label work?  Have you been accused by your spouse or children (who are braver than most) of being stuck in the past or your own solutions?  A friend’s young adult son frequently tells him his views are no longer relevant and he better wake up.  This harsh feedback can have a positive impact if you take action. I can offer a few quick suggestions on how to compensate: collaborate more, listen more, ask questions, delegate or defer to others

If you are brave, give permission to someone who works for or with you to speak truth to power and tell you if this could be you.

I wish you were sitting across from me (yes 6 feet away and wearing a mask) I would ask you about how you are doing in effectively managing leadership in a crisis.  I would close our conversation focused only on you and your personal resilience. 

We all know this is going to be a long haul in the acute phase.  How you weather this storm, how you rebound from adversity is key.  Managing your stress, accepting tough feedback, forgiving your mistakes, managing your emotions and building your empathy skills takes a lifetime of work but you have never needed these traits more. 

I will say that if you can advance your resilience capabilities during this crisis you will likely be well set for the rest of your life. 

Chris Oster
Associate Partner, Corporate Class Inc.

Top 5 Presentation Tips from a Public Speaking Coach in Toronto

Your upcoming presentation is an important initiative. No doubt, you have an exciting message to convey to a sophisticated audience. Since your audience will be listening with great anticipation, it’s important to deliver opening remarks that lend credibility and sets the tone for the day. The content needs to be clear, brief/to the point, and impactful. Although the content is critical, it is not what will convince your audience — you will. As a public speaking coach in Toronto, I’ve helped many clients polish their presentation skills, and in this post, we will work on some of those key principles together. Truly powerful communication inspires audiences to action. As a speaker, your job is to persuade. Whether you seek to change beliefs, perspectives, or actions, all communication is geared towards changing something. The only way to change anything is by persuading the audience with ideas. The goal is to communicate clear, concise and convincing ideas. Let’s make sure your remarks convey your ideas and that your audience is prepared to commit to them at the end of your speech. The courage to speak with conviction elevates the definition of communication. As an expert, you want to focus on the ideas you believe your audience needs to hear.  At the onset, the audience may be skeptical or not agree with you. That’s why it’s so important to engage them from the start and be sure to persuade them in the end to commit to your idea. The presentation tips outlined below will help structure your speech in a way that is engaging to the audience right from the start.

1. Speak with Conviction

To speak from a point of belief and conviction, it must be clear in your mind, as to the reason why you are speaking to this audience. You can ask yourself: a) why are you speaking to this audience of senior executives? and b) why should they listen to you? Once this is clear in your mind, it will trigger your mindset and support you to speak from a point of belief and conviction.

2. Get to the Point in One Sentence

Build a relationship with your audience instantly by starting with a strong introduction.  Frame your introduction as a headline: Ex: “I believe THAT new finance will be the major driver of global economic growth. So much so, we at Company XYZ have invested $9B in R&D towards that.” Tell us in one sentence (7 words or less) what you want to talk about. Get to the point immediately, audiences will wander away if you don’t. Most speakers start from creating a context for their content in order to help the audience understand how they came to their conclusion. The problem is that the audience doesn’t know what the speaker is trying to prove or defend. So, they get lost, confused, and sleepy, and we hope they wake up for the big reveal and the call to action. People’s attention span is about 3-5 seconds. If the speaker is interesting, people will go in, out, in, out…if the speaker is not engaging from the start, people go in, out and stay out. The word THAT is useful in ensuring that the sentence is an active idea rather than a passive statement of fact.

  • The one idea I have is THAT…
  • The message I want to share is THAT…
  • My argument is THAT…

a) What do you want your audience to feel and think at the conclusion of your talk? b) What do you want your audience to do at the conclusion of your talk? It is not easy to ask. Although, whatever your ask is, it stands to reason that your chances of success skyrocket when you actually ask for what you want.

3. Identify Your Main Points

Answer the WHY Example: a) Every social advance has resulted from technological progress b) Industry 4.0 means huge opportunities and challenges for the financial sector Show the HOW Example: a) The global financial information platform will be based on cloud services and Big Data, and everyone will be more and more able to access the platform via apps on their mobile phones, anytime, anywhere. Prove your conclusion up front, it engages the audience.

4. Prove Your Point

Identify the evidence that support your main points: Use only details that support your conclusion. If you need to discuss a list, call out all items first before discussing each.

5. State Your Call to Action

What do you want your audience to do at the conclusion of your talk?  Again, your request has to be concrete. By leveraging our strengths, we will contribute to social development and help create a better future.”  This is not concrete enough… This conclusion will invite smiles and nods and allow the audience to leave without demonstrating their commitment to your message/ideas. This message will soon be forgotten.  Presentation Tips Recap:

  • What is your goal in delivering these opening remarks?
  • How do you want to set the tone for the day?
  • What is the main topic you want to discuss?
  • What idea/s do you need to convince them of?
  • What arguments will you use to convince them?
  • Come full circle in the end … “So now you can see/understand why I said at the beginning THAT…”
  • What do you want them to do now?

I trust answering all of these presentation tips will move you closer to the end goal of delivering a polished speech with poise and command. If you’d like to work with a public speaking coach in Toronto or virtually online, get in touch with us. We can help take your presentation skills to the next level!

Business Strategy Planning: Is Strategy Relevant in the Absence of Leadership?

It has been said that strategy is destiny.

Robert Burgelman’s book notes that, “successful and unsuccessful strategies shape a company’s destiny. But if strategy shapes destiny, destiny has ways of asserting itself and constraining strategy.”

With COVID-19 many organizations and businesses have had to rethink and re-imagine their business strategy planning in what seems to be a blink of an eye. The tension between shifting strategy and external and internal factors is not new; what is different is the current economic climate and the impact of a pandemic on constraints of business strategy.

The limitations of the pandemic have essentially created lesser degrees of “stragility” or lesser degrees of freedom for organizations to be strategic, agile and nimble in shifting their course of action.

Given Canada has 1.78 million SME’s, a bulk of which are in the service sector, it is not surprising then that these companies are hit hard by COVID-19 and the ripple effect of closures, social distancing and economic shrinkage.  Many SME’s do not survive the first 10 years in business; in fact, Statistics Canada notes that SME’s that make it past a 10-year mark are 42.9% in the service industry.  So, is all lost and should small and medium sized business owners just give up? Are the odds just too high?

Absolutely not.  With any crisis there is opportunity.

How might you ask can there be opportunity when my bottom line is shrinking and my business model is no longer robust? 

For the first time in my lifetime, the whole world has slowed down to an unprecedented pace.  Take time to reflect on your current business model and re-evaluate your business strategy planning and what drives it.

Let’s assume the stay at home policies go well beyond 6 months…

  • What can you do differently to keep your business alive?
  • What are you selling and how are you selling it?
  • Are you using various technology and tools to leverage your brands and products?
  • Is your marketing strategy shifting to new platforms and if so, are you tracking your data to inform strategy?
  • Are you shifting your marketing methodology to align with the data and opportunities?
  • Is your marketing integrated in a way to drive profits and sales?
  • Who is your competition and what can you learn from them?
  • Does partnering to complement what you offer make better sense than competing in this environment and allow you to expand the scope of your brand and client base?
  • Can you really step back and look at your company objectively, where it fits in current market and assess it in an arms length objective way?

It has been said if you do the same thing over and over you will get the same results.

Therefore, in a climate of chaos, change is the only constant.

Change and change management, business strategy planning, and more importantly strategic implementation are all critical leadership skills that are absolutely foundational to any organization’s success and sustainability.

It is not surprising then that many SME’s maybe struggling to figure out what next? How do I re-strategize? What are my options and opportunities?

And to be fair, these are difficult questions to answer when you are a leader that is heavily invested in a business you built through hard work and doing what you have always known as best.

I would suggest companies may want to consider reaching out to a business strategy consultant to get an objective view of their landscape, a fresh set of eyes on their business model, a coach to help them work through perhaps the biggest business crisis they have dealt with – these are all worthwhile investments as they will help leaders and organizations not only re-evaluate what they do and how they do it, they will help leaders retain their confidence in leading change, making thoughtful and smart business decisions and developing new strategies that set the stage for the next phase of the organization.

Because whether we want to acknowledge this or not, there will be a next phase with a new economy and a new way of doing business post COVID-19.

How, as leaders, we reset our business strategy planning, how we use the crisis as an opportunity to rethink our business models, our offerings, our marketing, our strategic partnership and our support systems will all impact and determine if your business is going to be in the 50% that survives in the next decade.

Learning to Rise During COVID-19 with Dare to Lead by Dr. Brené Brown

We’re all experiencing a new normal – both in grieving our past lives, prior to February 29, 2020, and in finding a new way forward. The psychological effects of COVID-19 have been devastating for our society.

Since March 1, 2020, our global environment has changed due to COVID-19. CBS anchor Gayle King says, “I feel emotionally drained. I feel spiritually drained. I think a lot of people are feeling this during this time.”

The second order of effects of COVID-19 include disruption of family routine, social distancing, isolation, loneliness, layoffs, job loss, exposure to extreme stress, and moment by moment digestion of knowing that more than 2 million people across the globe have COVID-19 exposures and that there are more than 180,000 deaths globally. These are all anxiety provoking.

Learning resiliency skills during and after a major event such as COVID-19 is not easy. Modern neuroscience tells us that we experience physical, social, and mental threats, all with the same intensity.

However, in this light, our rising skills are ever so imperative. Author Dr. Brené Brown says that gaining skills in rising up enable people to take risks and jump into the vast unknown. Learning to rise is a three-part process: “the reckoning, the rumble and the revolution.” People are emotional beings. When you react emotionally to something, you can move forward by becoming curious about what you feel and why. Tune into your mind and body’s reactions, such as an increased heartbeat, a dry mouth or ruminating thoughts.

Let’s take a closer look at the three steps to Learning to Rise:

  1. The Reckoning: Our reckoning during COVID-19 is being in a situation where our emotions run high. We find that our physiology is taking over our thinking, and logic and behavior are not present. The key to the reckoning is being aware, present, and conscious that something has gotten a hold of you. Next, it’s time to get curious about it. For instance: I’m in a lot of pain, feeling really vulnerable, my stomach is in knots, feeling like I am paralyzed, want to punch something, or I need to get away and run from this situation (freeze, fight, or flight). This step can be hard because most tend to blame others or outside circumstances.
  2. The Rumble: Brown describes how people “offload” emotions onto others instead of reckoning with their feelings. They tamp down their emotional reactions until one small comment or action sparks an out-of-proportion outburst. Or, they get angry, place blame and make excuses. Rumbling is stepping into the story, owning it and taking it to the mat! Rumbling typically includes the story we make up absent of data. Consequently, it’s usually based in fears and insecurities. These evolve into conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories can often contain confabulations. Brown defines this as a lie told honestly. We replace missing information with something false that we believe to be true. This shows up at work when we share what we believe is factual information, but it’s really just our own opinion. Brown encourages us to write our SFD (shxxx first draft) to start an interruption. It’s a simple way to notice your story while being in your story. To put rising skills into practice, start with:
      • “The story I’m telling myself…” or “The story I make up…”
      • Write it down!
      • There are a whole host of follow-up questions that Brown outlines as the Story Rumble process. The most challenging question is: “What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?”
  3. The Revolution: According to Brown, the revolution is all about claiming authorship of our own stories and lives. It’s about taking off the armor and rumbling with vulnerability, living in our values, braving trust with open hearts and learning to rise!

As we move to gain control of our lives through building, deepening, and strengthening our resiliency skills, we practice mental endurance and model resilient behaviors for our communities and families. By doing that we embrace Daring Leadership. I Dare You to Lead.
————————————————————————————————————————————–

Terri L. Williams
Senior Consultant, Corporate Class, Inc.
Dare to Lead Certified Facilitator

5 Tips to Help You Stay Present During a Time of Uncertainty

By Corporate Class Inc.

Have you ever heard the saying “don’t let the future steal your present?”

It can be challenging to do, especially during times of uncertainty. The COVID-19 crisis has many of us worried about a number of factors like our health or the health of our loved ones, financial commitments, and our jobs…just to name a few.  Our minds can easily get distracted by worrying or feeling anxious about things that we “think may happen” in the future. This impacts our overall mental and emotional well-being and our ability to make effective decisions in the present, which will help our future.

Try these five tips to help you stay present:

1. Conduct a “What if?” detox

The words “What if?” can be very powerful and can often lead to creating your own narratives about what may happen in the future. Most worries, anxieties, and fears start with “What if…?”. What if I catch the COVID-19 virus? What if I fall very ill? What if I lose my job? What if I can’t pay my rent? What if the economy does not recover?  If not properly harnessed, all of these “What if’s?” can destroy your confidence and ability to stay present.

Try replacing What if with “I can” or “I will”, to help you stay focused on what you can control.  For example: “I will practice social distancing and wash my hands regularly to mitigate the risk of me becoming ill.”

2. Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness means being more in tune with your thoughts and emotions and recognizing what your body needs. Focusing on your breath will draw you back to the present moment.  This allows you to more effectively communicate whatyou are thinking and how you are feeling with others, which helps minimize your anxious thoughts. Listen to what your body is telling you and give it what it needs. If it is feeling run down, rest.  Maybe you need fresh air or a glass of water.

3. Minimize News and Social Media

During a crisis, it’s important to stay informed on what’s happening in the news; however, it can be easy to become completely consumed.  When you check social media or listen to news first thing in the day it becomes a lot harder to concentrate on anything andit’s harder to not be dragged into a negative loop. Limit the amount of time you’re spending watching the news and scrolling on social media. Give yourself limited time slots during the day to check-in. ⠀⠀

4. Feed the Senses

Focusing on your five senses can be one of the best tools to bring you back to the now. If you find your mind wandering, take control of your thoughts by asking yourself: What do I hear? Taste? Feel? See? Smell? This helps take you away from ruminating and reminds you that what matters most is what’s happening right at this moment.

5. Create a Reminder

Creating a reminder for yourself can give you the nudge you need to get back to the present moment. You can use sticky notes, screensavers, set an alarm on your phone, or a picture of something that grounds you and helps bring you back to the present moment.

Get Present. Pause. Connect.

Wherever you are be all there. ~ Jim Elliot