Leading during a crisis: Lessons learned

This article originally appeared on the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute page. 

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, we are still feeling the effects of operating while in crisis. This has impacted all aspects of business, especially in the ways we lead. To help entrepreneurs gain insight into how they can lead during difficult times, we hosted a workshop with Ruchi Watson, managing director of the Goff Strategic Leadership Center and faculty member in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the David Eccles School of Business. As someone with experience leading during a crisis before and during the recent pandemic, this is the advice she had to give.

Have faith in yourself

Events of crisis can throw us off balance and interfere with our inner security. It is important to recognize our own ability even in times of turmoil, Watson said. “You can be a leader at any level of a company,” she continued. “Don’t be afraid to announce what you are good at.” Finding where you can add value and then making it known to your team will help you to know how to structure your emergency response.

Leadership may not be the same for everybody; self-awareness will be important when you present your strengths to your team, Watson added. “Leadership is about knowing yourself and knowing where you want to go, taking ownership of those things, and then helping others,” she said. As you work collaboratively and independently to solve the problems of a crisis, lean into what you know you are best at.

Know when to delegate

Although it is tempting to take everything on for yourself as soon as a crisis hits, you’ll want to ensure you don’t overburden your workload. Resisting the urge to overwork yourself will optimize your own productivity and encourage others to offer their own strengths. “It takes a leader to know when it’s not your problem to solve — honor when its someone else’s time to lead,” Watson said.

Identifying your resources in and outside of your team will give you the support you need when taking on greater challenges. Know what others are good at so that you can fully utilize the resources that surround you. Create a small strike team to plan for emergencies, Watson advised. “Know who is in your support system before the crisis,” she said. Delegating tasks to those around you who are equipped to take them on will allow you more flexibility within your leadership.

Make time for self-care

Times of crisis can be mentally and physically taxing; successful leaders make efforts to ensure they can regularly de-stress. Watson suggested finding “reset buttons” that will help you process your emotions and reflect. “For me, working out and meditation are what help to maintain my energy” she said. “I make time for them because I can’t afford not to.”

It is additionally important that you promote self-care within your company to ensure that everyone can work at their best. “A common mistake is equating being successful with doing everything — build a culture that accepts comfortability with limits,” Watson said. Routinely perform wellness checks with yourself and your peers so that everyone feels cared for. While the pressure of leadership can be isolating, know you are not alone because your community will support you just as you support them.