6 War-Proven Rules of Leadership to Follow During a Crisis
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Since February 24, 2022, our usual course of work has changed dramatically. Instead of experimenting with new content formats for fun and easy learning, we had to evacuate our Ukrainian team to safe regions in Ukraine and abroad. This experience has become the most difficult crisis for our company, and the time of Covid-19 now seems only a preparation for the harsh military reality of today. But now, more than six months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, our team has stabilized; we had no downtime in our operations and even accelerated our growth.
I believe that decisive leadership is the secret to weathering a crisis and adapting to a new reality – and the leaders of my company, as well as the entire team, fully embraced this challenge. These five rules of crisis leadership have helped our core team and every employee to maintain operations despite the horrors of war.
Related: I run two businesses in Ukraine. Here’s how we’re resilient enough to keep operating during war
Rule #1: Foster a culture of leadership at all levels
Leading at all levels – this means that each member of the team must take ownership of their work. But how do you achieve this when most people usually want someone to tell them what to do? The answer is in the scale of control principle described in the book Spin the ship! by David Marquet.
Its main goal is to push authority to the lowest possible level by encouraging people to take responsibility, and its main secret is a slight change in the language your team usually uses. If your employees ask a manager what to do, the entire burden is on the manager’s shoulders. It may be easier and faster in the short term, but the team feels less responsible, committed and motivated in the long term. We ask people to start their requests with “I intend to…” and add relevant information so that all the manager has to say is “Very good”. It makes a real difference. People start to take ownership, become more responsible and involved, and turn to the real driving force behind a business. This leadership strategy works at all levels, from senior executives to juniors.
By nurturing the ascent of the ladder of control, you are building a culture of leadership where leaders raise new leaders. This rule is first and foremost; without it, we would not pass the test of war.
Related: Ownership: The Ultimate Motivator
Rule #2: Focus on people
All crucial business decisions and growth are the merit of people, not a strategy or an instrument. This is why any wise leader should invest in the team, its growth and its sense of security to achieve business growth. Research shows that psychological safety in the workplace, when people can act and speak up without fear, is a key driver for employee effectiveness, healthy workplace relationships, and greater motivation. Ultimately, this is the bottom line for effective decision making.
But a severe crisis can ruin all your efforts to build psychological safety in your business, so you need to put anything that doesn’t help stabilize people on the back burner for a while and focus on supporting your team. First people, then businesses. Think about the most critical needs of your employees – health issues, economic challenges or even a threat to life – and try to meet them as much as possible.
That’s why we focused on the safety of people during the first day of war. We evacuated our Ukrainian team with their families to safe locations in western Ukraine and provided them with temporary accommodation. After a few weeks, we moved part of our team to Poland. After ensuring the safety of our entire Ukrainian team, we launched a series of meetings with psychologists and team meetings to share feelings and personal experiences of the war.
All of this has helped us get through and adapt to a difficult period of shock and return to a stable mode of operation, as much as possible, under current conditions.
Related: Why the Ukraine crisis should make you rethink the way you lead
Rule #3: Prioritize and Act Quickly
During a crisis, strategies of looking long-term and planning for that future don’t work. You have to come up with a new tactic based on the new reality and be ready to change your plans at any time. However, it is essential to set business priorities and keep them focused. Sometimes this means that you have to abandon certain business directions or reduce them significantly, even if you have been working in it with passion for a long time.
We did not stop providing learning services to our customers for a single day, but our Ukrainian team could not work as usual during the first week of the war. As we focused our resources and efforts on the safety of our team members and their families, without knowing what was going to happen next, we refrained from investing in new projects. Instead, we decided to focus on stocks that would help our business stay afloat through the crisis and continue to generate profits.
These reactive decisions helped us through turbulent times for business, and after a few months, when all operations were stable, we resumed new projects.
Rule #4: Practice Integrative Consciousness and Keep Optimism Limited
In other words, stay confident, don’t lose hope, but stay in touch with reality. How do you put it into practice when running the business in conditions of unprecedented uncertainty and constantly feeling anxious? There’s no perfect recipe, but carefully observing the rapidly changing reality and your feelings about it can help you stay relatively calm and not spread your anxiety to the team. According to McKinsey, this approach is called integrative consciousness. This enables leaders at all levels to see even the most complex challenges as problems they can solve and lessons everyone can learn.
Another critical term for this rule is limited optimism. Again, it’s about being sensitive to severe crisis circumstances while keeping a positive outlook for the future and giving the team a sense of purpose and hope during the crisis.
Related: What Ukraine’s War Can Teach Entrepreneurs About Collaboration
Rule #5: Maintain transparent communication
A crisis is a time when you have more questions than answers, and the best way to communicate about it is to be candid. Tell your team not only what you know, but also what you don’t know. Be clear about the current situation and your next actions to deal with it, and don’t be afraid to appear vulnerable. Although you are responsible for your employees, you will give them much more hope and support by acting like a real human being with whom they can relate.
Finally, acknowledging problems and openly communicating your concerns is much more effective than suppression; it enables the team to respond to emerging challenges and create new and powerful ideas to deal with them.
Rule #6: Adapt quickly
You can never fully prepare for a crisis, even if you have experienced it once. That’s why it’s important to make several plans and be prepared for things to spiral out of control. In this case, you need to pull yourself together, find strength and stability, and start your new plan to fight the crisis. Accepting that things can go wrong ultimately increases the level of resilience and the chances of remaining flexible and adaptable.
In Ukraine, we have seen the truth of these words in our own experience. A few months before February 24, the field of information in Ukraine and around the world was tense with news of a possible Russian attack. In response, our team prepared several contingency plans and various scenarios – from the most positive to the absolute worst.
Navigating a crisis with your team is love at first sight and a game-changing experience for your business. And the best you can do to deal with it is to start cultivating leadership in your team at all levels, investing in people’s growth and, of course, working on your awareness, adaptability and resilience. . Make this learning a priority and you’ll be ready for just about anything. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.