Beyond crisis leadership: What your team needs now

Employee benefits

Assess and adjust your approach

When we’re at our personal best—well rested, properly nourished, happily challenged, feeling supported by our leaders and team—we can respond more positively to opportunities and      challenges. While the worst of the pandemic often feels like it’s behind us, many employees may still be stuck in crisis mode. Everyone from leaders to hourly staff may need help initiating a mindset refresh.

“What we’re hearing is that people need to replenish and refill, but they haven’t been able to do that because they haven’t really gotten a break from the crisis environment,” says Jenni Marsh, director of consulting at the Truist Leadership Institute. “So they’re having trouble cycling back up in terms of performance.”

Some of this, says Marsh, is because some leaders may still be defaulting to crisis leadership mode in everyday interactions.

“There are leaders who are extremely resilient in times of crisis, by the nature of their personality,” says E. Amalia Jansel, an executive consultant at the Truist Leadership Institute. “In fact, they may develop a preference for it—this go, go, go approach—and they may even continue operating that way when there isn’t a crisis anymore.”

But this can have its drawbacks. “Leading in an acute crisis means you’re focused on what’s happening right now—‘I’ve got to put this fire out,’” says Patrick Gallagher, director of research at the Truist Leadership Institute. “But if you stay in firefighting mode, you run the risk of losing that long-term view of your business.”

You may also find that emotions take over. Think of how you might react when someone taps you on the shoulder if you were terribly stressed versus if you were relaxing on a beach.

Read on for ideas on how to assess and adjust your approach to move beyond crisis leadership and still meet the evolving challenges of your business.

Ask yourself some key questions

“In crisis mode our focus becomes narrower,” says Jansel. “This can be helpful for a quick reaction when necessary. But it does limit our ability to think creatively, to find solutions for complex problems. So, if you find yourself convinced you must push forward at a greater speed, try the counter-intuitive approach: pause and reflect! It will help you to switch from a narrow to an expanded way of thinking.”  

Think about your immediate reactions. How can you tell if you’re still living in crisis mode—or responding to something with the appropriate level of concern?

You might ask yourself:

  • Is this a crisis?
  • What’s really going on here?
  • What other information do I need before I act?
  • Does this need to be addressed now, later, or never?
  • Is there an underlying issue at the root of this?

Think about your assumptions. For example, if an employee seems to be underperforming, you might assume they’re distracted by working from home—or are searching for a different job.

You might ask yourself:

  • What am I assuming is true? 
  • What if that isn’t true?
  • What else could be true?
  • How can I find out the truth?

Find more insights into supporting hybrid and remote team members in “Remote-work burnout is real: Here’s how to prevent it.

"It's really important to understand yourself as a leader—your style, your expectations, your beliefs about performance."

E. Amalia Jansel
Executive Consultant,
Truist Leadership Institute

Think about your leadership style. “It’s really important to understand yourself as a leader—your style, your expectations, your beliefs about performance. It’s also important to consider how these are different in times of crisis versus normal times,” says Jansel. “Once you gain this awareness, it’s easier to see how what you’re doing is affecting each individual on your team.” 

You might ask yourself:

  • What is my leadership style today?
  • How and why is it different from what I have done in the past?
  • What is the impact of my style on my team?
  • Is what I’m doing in keeping with our company culture and norms?

Spend more time on relationships.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial for leaders to dedicate time to building strong relationships with employees. “Doing so will help managers see if someone on their team is struggling,” says Gallagher.

Make time to talk. Building relationships requires a conscious effort and a time investment. “Leaders may have a lot of duties—improve productivity, hit metrics, contact clients. If you don’t take something off their plate, they won’t have the hours to devote to becoming better leaders and developing those relationships,” says Gallagher.

That might mean giving managers a few days for leadership development training, dialing back other goals, and building time into their schedules to really talk to their team members about topics other than what’s due now or next. You might even make relationship-building part of performance goals for the year, complete with action items and assessments of progress.

Make time to listen. The pace of performance is so great that many leaders are failing to truly connect and listen to those they lead. Providing an opportunity to hear the perspective of others and really listen—for not only the facts but also the feelings that are connected—is important.  

Leaders often move to solve at the cost of being present with another person’s experience and hearing it for what it is. Often, listening is the best way to support a team member. Having the space to talk allows the person to hear and see options that didn’t seem present while things were just spinning in their head. When leaders provide the supportive space for people to move themselves through crises, it’s better for everyone.

Embrace today’s environment, even as it evolves.

A final thought for leaders who are still holding out hope for returning to the old way of doing things: Channel that hope toward the future.

“As we’re swinging away from the crisis, we can go a little too far, trying to tell our team it’s going to be super calm someday. But that’s probably not realistic,” says Marsh. “The journey for today’s leader is to find a place of agility that’s just below crisis mode. That means responding quickly without acting like a firefighter.”

"The journey for today's Leader is to find a place of agility that's just below crisis mode."

Jennl Marsh
Director of Consulting,
Truist Leadership Institute

Looking for more ways to retain talent?

To learn more from Truist experts about how leaders can best support their teams in today’s business environment, see the “Reinvest in your people” section of our Purple PaperSM: “Imagine tomorrow. Build it today.”