Every business, no matter its size or industry, is being tried by COVID-19 and its social distancing mandates. From office closures and revenue shortfalls to stressed employees and children complicating attempts to work from home, we’re all being forced to adapt.
Leadership mettle is especially tested in times of crisis. There’s an expectation that as the figurehead of a company, you display poise, decisiveness, insight, and empathy—often all at once. It’s a nearly impossible task, even for the most energetic and charismatic leaders.
Those who recognize how they respond under pressure will be better equipped to adapt, realign, and rebuild their teams as tough business decisions are made. That means exercising self-awareness: understanding your strengths and when you may be leaning too heavily on them.
Over-reliance on behavioral strengths
In times of heightened pressure, our instinct is to lean into our natural behaviors. For example, leaders who are independent might crave more independence in a crisis.
This tendency to lean into strengths holds true across any organization, regardless of position or pay grade. The more strongly you exhibit a particular drive, the more heavily you will lean into it when pressure mounts. If you’re not careful, these instincts may cause you to behave counter to what the situation calls for. In a crisis, a company might need its leaders to reach out to employees frequently to help them feel safe. A leader who’s leaning into their natural drive for independence could cause problems.
As a leader, you can do a couple of things to combat this. First, note where your drives are most and least pronounced—and how the relationships between those drives might manifest. Are you a dominant, big-picture thinker who’s impatient? You’re likely comfortable taking risks under typical business circumstances.
But these aren’t typical circumstances. You’re under pressure and considerable stress. Practice self-awareness. When you feel stress building, take a step back and ask yourself: Is my stress affecting the decisions I’m about to make? Pausing before acting can help you avoid taking a risk at the wrong time.
Leveraging your behavioral strengths
You can still leverage your strongest behaviors for the greater good in crisis. For example, if you’re a patient and steady leader, those behaviors can help in times of anxiety. Your even-keeled, steadying influence may help calm people and stem knee-jerk reactions. But at a certain point, your typical measured approach needs to give way to decisive action, particularly when the economic impact of a crisis is so rapidly evolving.
If you’re a dominant, risk-taking individual on a team that’s cautious and steady, you can encourage your teammates to take decisive action—which may be needed for survival.
But again, always take a step back and be self-aware. In the most egregious cases, dominant individuals will want to call the shots, ignoring others and stoking conflict. They become impatient and more authoritative, prioritizing swift action and overlooking feedback. Granted, they may not mean to be dismissive; they’re simply under stress and doing what comes most naturally.
Check this behavior in yourself as a leader. It’s imperative to do so before it actually exacerbates the crisis. Instinctual reactions can cause your employees more stress and disruption—particularly if they don’t understand how or why this is happening.
Balance your behaviors with complementary drives and people
No one leader can navigate a crisis alone. During times of stress, a balanced leadership team with complementary behavioral drives can help knock down “ego barriers” and enforce a system of checks and balances.
You may not realize your blind spots, or where your behavioral drives are actually limiting the broader group. A well-rounded leadership team will:
- Lean on people in their areas of expertise
- Stress-test important decisions by running them by people with different perspectives
- Pick each other up while holding one another accountable
Now is not the time for egos. The businesses that endure this economic downturn will be the ones whose leaders have acted with awareness of their own drives, at a sustainable pace, while leveraging the best of the people around them.