Before COVID-19, trade business leaders were focused on driving profit, generating new leads and gaining market share. In the uncertainty of the current climate, the responsibilities of leaders have changed drastically.
With unforeseen roadblocks to navigate, you’re now in a situation where you’re making leadership decisions around protecting your business, keeping your team of tradies in jobs and maintaining a safe, stable and motivating work environment.
This is not an easy transition. In dealing with the crippling effects of this crisis, the greatest challenge of leaders is in managing the fears, doubts, angst and worries of the team, while managing such feelings of their own.
The COVID-19 situation offers leaders an extra opportunity to earn respect and buy-in from employees. So, before outlining the seven steps to lead your team in a crisis, what does it mean to be a leader — and how does it differ from being a manager?
What is a leader?
Management and leadership are often seen as the same thing, and while there is some overlap between the two roles, there are some key differences. At times, managers will display some (or maybe all) characteristics of leaders, and leaders will sometimes need to serve as managers. Some of your staff may also display leadership characteristics.
So, what characteristics distinguish leaders?
“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”
— Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple
How to lead in a crisis
In times of crisis, while great leaders should be highly visible and engaged and taking action, taking care of your team is at the top of the list. In order to maintain a loyal and productive workforce in uncertainty, a leader needs to clearly determine the concerns of his/her employees and support them with this knowledge.
As a leader, here are seven steps to get your team on side.
Step 1. Get up to speed on the situation
The current health crisis is evolving and changing every day. As a leader, you won’t have all the answers. No one does. But there is plenty of information available for business owners on measures in place to support them through this time. See AroFlo’s COVID-19 page for an overview of what’s available in your location and read up so you can provide stability and direction.
Step 2. Show up and be present
Now’s not the time to retreat. Your team is counting on you to show up and be present, even though you’re on a steep learning curve and are carrying the weight of responsibility for the future of the business. With anxieties running high, try to find a way to lead with both empathy and conviction. Understanding and managing your own emotions around the situation will help you empathise.
Step 3. Define new priorities
Throw out the old leadership playbook. Adjust quickly and establish a new plan of attack. Define new priorities, for example, set KPIs for your team and communicate these with clarity. Aim to get ahead of the changing circumstances, where possible. Here are some things you could be thinking about to prepare your business for life after COVID-19.
- Get clear on your business’s break-even point.
- Complete a cash-flow forecast to predict surpluses and shortages.
- Communicate with your database to create loyalty and trust.
- Stay healthy and well. Your business is relying on you.
Step 4. Deliver reliably
Create a culture of accountability. Your trade business will survive and thrive if your team has an aligned focus. Remember to factor in self-care. You’re more likely to come unstuck if you’re not eating well, sleeping enough and exercising regularly.
Step 5. Create an informed action plan
Be crystal clear about the things that matter most. Distinguish between urgent and important. Consider all the possibilities, as best you can. Your cash flow forecast, and other business fundamentals, will provide the foundation. Keep up with industry news via trade organisations or publications and subscribe to relevant government updates.
Step 6. Be transparent about progress
Given the unpredictable and unprecedented nature of this crisis — no one knows when it’s going to end — you won’t get it right, every time. However, stay transparent about the plan’s progress. It builds trust and resilience. For example, update employees on the business’s eligibility for government support, and in turn, job security and stability.
Step 7. Get feedback
Ask for feedback from key team members and customers. It demonstrates you’re being proactive and genuinely care about doing the best job possible, in the circumstances. Sometimes, it’s okay to admit you don’t know what to do.
In a crisis, your leadership colours will shine through.
What will COVID-19 reveal about you and your leadership qualities?