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Coronavirus: How to be a great leader in a crisis

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

1. Show your people you REALLY care

You love your people more than anything else. I know it. You know it. Now's your chance to prove it to your people so they know it. In Australia, big corporations like Woollies and Wesfarmers are doing this by putting their money where their mouths are and paying casuals even if they're off because of coronavirus symptoms. Love it!

But for smaller organisations there are lots of different ways you can do this. Look at every decision you make through the lens of, 'How can we be kind to our people?' and 'How can we trust our people?' As you take a hit in lots of different areas, you don't have to take a hit in the trust department with your people. Instead, this is an opportunity to make a massive investment in trust so your people walk out of this season with more certainty than ever before that you truly care about them.


I can't stress this enough, people care less about what decisions you make and more about how clearly you communicate them. Be honest about the things you don't know. Tell people clearly what things are and aren't in your control.

And above all else, prioritise being clear. If there are mixed messages in your organisation, fix it! Get super ridiculously over-the-top clear at a leadership team level and then do whatever you need to do organisationally to communicate clearly.

3. Communicate to people the way they like to be communicated to

Start your communication with the most important pieces in dot points so the people who just want the headlines get what they need. But don't be afraid to attach documents and to film long videos with all the details anyone could need. Put them in links or refer to them so people know they can access them. This way your people who love all the information can go and read up and listen as much as they want without your headline people getting overwhelmed and missing the message.

4. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer

One of my favourite leadership sayings is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Everyone is looking to you for guidance so be vulnerable, but do so with the temperature in mind. How can you set the temperature to help people to be calm?

5. Meet super-regularly as a leadership team

Clear communication starts at the top. Get together as a team as often as you need to in order to stay on the same page as the crisis develops. If that means daily, then meet daily. If you need to meet two times a day then do that. And be creative, if everyone's not in the same spot then invest in something like Zoom and get together on a call whenever you need to.

Right now, invest in communication, no matter what the cost because the ROI will be massive—particularly in the culture of your organisation. Clear communication through a crisis strengthens culture like nothing else but unclear communication in a crisis—even with the best intentions—is a culture killer.

6. Disagree and commit

Intel coined this phrase for their teams and it's especially important in a crisis. Even if you can't all agree, the leader needs to make decisions and the team needs to get on board with committing, even when they disagree.

There's nothing more dangerous for stability than a bunch of leaders walking around 'umming' and 'ahhing' about decisions that have been made by the senior pastor, head of school or CEO. Get on the same page as a leadership team, otherwise your people will be super frustrated with you.

7. Tell stories

So much of your communication at the moment will be about the coronavirus. When you are meeting, when you aren't meeting, what your current plan is for next week, what your plan was yesterday for next week that's now had to change etc!

In the midst of all of this necessary and important communication, look for stories of your vision. When you share something important with your people, why not add a link at the bottom with a powerful testimony video from last year with a note saying something like, 'As we navigate this, let's remember Jesus is still at work, even when we aren't. Let's be praying for more stories like John's story in the midst of a challenging time for our nation.'

8. Break up with your strategy.

Chris Hodges reminded me at a conference a couple of years ago how important it is to be sold out for the vision but to hold our strategy—'how' we're going to get there—in an open hand. Andy Stanley puts it this way:

Marry your mission. Date your model. Fall in love with your vision. Stay mildly infatuated by your approach.

So, leaders, let me ask you a difficult question: Do you need to break up with your strategy? And if so, what might that look like?

Coronavirus is a crisis but it also presents an opportunity for change. Perhaps there are some things you can change as a team and as an organisation that will not only help everyone to get through this but will also help you as a leader to innovate faster than you otherwise would have been able to.

Watch the Facebook live video where Jonno White talks about how to be a great leader in a crisis:

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