How to Lead During an Economic Crisis


As Louisianans we’ve experienced more than our share of disasters. Hurricane Katrina and the 2016 flood upended large portions of the state and the effects of those natural disasters continue to impact our communities. But the economic crisis spurred by COVID-19 is different. Once floodwaters recede, we can begin rebuilding. But the ongoing economic disaster has no defined end — instead, it could return with even greater force.

“This is a more complex, sustained and multi-faceted space that we’re in,” says Devin Lemoine, owner and president at leadership coaching firm Success Labs. Uncertainty makes leadership extremely difficult. There’s no clear path or obvious solution to the economic and operational havoc COVID-19 has caused.

But there are strategies for effective leadership, even during an uncertain economy and in times of crisis. Here’s how to lead your team and support your clients and business through this economic crisis.

Lean on Your Principles

When you founded your startup, you probably drew up a list of principles and values you wanted your team to embody. Now that we’re in a state of crisis, those need to be more than words. These foundational principles should guide your actions, Lemoine says. Your strategies during this time should be flexible, but your principles should never waver.

Your principles also inform your perspective. For example, if one of your driving principles is innovation, then you should guide your team to see economic disruption as an opportunity to innovate. “Approach the space we’re in with curiosity and acceptance of radical uncertainty,” Lemoine suggests.

Create Connection to Drive Innovation

Before reacting during a crisis, bring your team together without an agenda to check in on each other and facilitate stronger connections. “Many leaders make the mistake of putting people into action too quickly,” says Janet Harvey, CEO and leadership coach at InviteCHANGE. “Bring team members together and ask them how they’re navigating things that used to be easy.”

Crisis has a way of bringing people together to find solutions. “People are really reaching out to their partnerships and relationships,” Lemoine says. “It’s on leaders to create an environment where people can come together.” Use this time to build teams and create trust. These connections will drive innovation and creativity, allowing your team time to evaluate and adapt to changing market realities and evolving clients’ needs.

As a leader, it’s vital to acknowledge the value each member brings to the team. “Keep strengthening the belonging of each of your team members,” Harvey suggests. “Acknowledge their competence.” Help your team feel prepared to face change and uncertainty.

Embrace New Opportunities

Crisis offers an opportunity to embrace radical change, but you have to lead the way. “The assumptions we make and the habits we rely on have all been disrupted,” Harvey says. Disruption presents an opportunity to re-evaluate your products and processes. Once you and your team members have had time to process the unfolding crisis and disruption, you will be much better equipped to respond.

Pivot your team towards planning for change. As a startup or small business, you have a unique advantage over much larger companies: You can be nimble during times of crisis. “Because you’re small, you’re able to unhook from how you ‘always done it’ much more rapidly than organizations that have thousands of people working for them,” Harvey points out. Allow your team to be creative and guide your organization into new territory. You’ll emerge from the crisis stronger and ready to move forward.

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