How To Lead Through the Chaos of COVID-19

Combat is the ultimate expression of consequence and the ultimate form of chaos. It seems though, COVID-19 is giving combat a run for its money as far as the chaos it is creating. Chaos is here like it or not, so from a leadership perspective there is only one way to handle it: LEAD.

As a former Navy SEAL and FBI Special Agent I have seen combat and chaos in many forms. As a business owner with my wife, father of three small children, and owner of three dogs, I’ve seen my fair share of chaos at home. And now, add COVID-19 to the mix. School closings, business closings, social distancing, travel bans, an apparently inevitable recession, and potentially running out of toilet paper are only a few items to add to the chaos we are facing.

Here is the good news: There is not a special leadership “to do” list locked away in a vault for special chaotic situations like combat, COVID-19, or a toilet paper shortage. Leadership is a process that allows you to account for any challenge, big or small, life threatening or otherwise. To find leadership success in any environment, a leader must account for each of the following elements:

1.    Emotional Awareness and Recognition: Be aware of your emotions first and foremost because emotions drive actions. If you are not aware of your emotions and the actions they drive then you are making random decisions and hoping or assuming they will work out. Hope and assumption have no place in the leadership equation. Leaders make conscious decisions based on an awareness of the thing that drives actions, emotions.

2.    Cultural Awareness and Recognition: Culture is made up of the things you do, not the labels you put on them. What does your organization, team, or family do? Do they point fingers when something goes wrong? Do they yell or criticize when stressed out? Do they focus on minutia during chaos rather than prioritize and execute the most important tasks to not only weather the storm, but to thrive? If you are not aware of your current culture, or the things you DO, you cannot make the necessary adjustments to lead the appropriate way and DO the right things. Awareness first, then adjustments.

3.    Guidelines for Behavior: Now that you are aware of your emotions, and aware of what you, your organization, team, or family DOES, you can go about deciding what you will do. Or, more specifically, how you will behave. There is only one constant during times of crisis and that is your behavior. Think of it this way, if you didn’t change the way you made, marketed, or sold your widget, but behaved in these ways, would you get better? Find one to three behaviors you didn’t like during Cultural Awareness and Recognition and turn them on their head. Here are some examples:

a.    We recognize our emotions before we act to ensure conscious decision making.

b.    We prioritize tasks and execute them to completion before adding another task to the list.

c.     We don’t act until we have a well thought out plan that has been fully communicated to all applicable players.

Here’s a question for you: If your team or family acted in the above ways, would you get better? Yes, you would! These are not market specific behaviors. They are behaviors that make us better as a team, an organization, a unit, AND a family. These are the type of behaviors that allow organizations, teams, and families to survive the chaos of things like COVID-19. The behaviors will vary from team to team. Identify what behaviors your team or family needs to get better and not only survive but thrive in any situation.

4.    Planning (SMACCC it!):  Any good plan covers these essential elements.

a.    SITUATION: Clearly identify your situation or set of circumstances dictating the need for action. This gives your team clarity and sense of purpose.

b.    MISSION: Next identify your MISSION or goal or what exactly you are trying to achieve.

c.     ACTIONS: Once you have established your mission, identify the actions you need to take to accomplish that mission.

d.    COMMAND: For each action identify command or who is in charge of each action as well as the overall mission.

e.    CONTINGENCIES: For each action, identify some things that can go wrong, or contingencies, and account for them.

f.     COMMUNICATION: Finally, identify when, how, about what, and with whom you will communicate and update your plan.

5.    Resistance: Cover elements one through four of my leadership process and you will find massive and consistent success, even during turbulent times like we are facing now. Unfortunately, human nature dictates that people will resist even the most obvious things that will lead to our success. When you face resistance, first ensure you have covered elements one through four above. If you have not, fix it because that may be the source of the resistance you are facing. If you have, then be confident and carry on because you are likely doing something different that is taking people out of their comfort zone and that is enough to move anyone to resistance, regardless of how much sense it makes.

I understand the need for businesses to cut costs and manage spending during times of crisis. But believe me, double down on your leadership efforts first and foremost. Leadership is what will get you, your organization, your team, and your family through the current chaos. Consistently follow and account for the elements of my tried and true, battle tested leadership process and you will find calm amidst the chaos so that you can not only survive, but thrive!

Errol Doebler is the founder of Leader 193, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Leader 193 to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, leadership training, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.

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