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The New Rules of Managing in a Crisis

Mar 30, 2020

Handsome businessman with eyeglasses working from homeManaging a team that works from home is challenging but not impossible. Here are seven practical tips to help you manage in a crisis, take care of yourself, and help your team succeed. 

Show your team you trust them

Nothing brings out your team's best like trust and appreciation. And nothing demotivates like micromanagement -- especially in a crisis. 

I recently asked a friend how he was keeping his staff focused. "No trouble on focus," he said. "They're professional and want to do their best." You could hear the pride in his voice. Like a proud dad.

Everyone had their assignments, he said. Everyone knew what was expected of them and by when.

Beyond their weekly check-in meeting, now done by videoconference, everyone was given the space to get their work done. 

"The only difference," he said, "is now we're working from home." 

Trust your team unless they give you reason not to. Let them know how much you appreciate them, even before they ask. That's how you lead and inspire their best.

And if you want to share last week's post, Surviving and Thriving When Working From Home, please feel free. 

Take the initiative

Every boss has a boss, yes? If you're a manager, you have a manager above you. Even if you're the owner, you're accountable to customers. 

The point is, nobody will care more about your team than you do -- or know them better.

So instead of waiting for direction, work with your team to come up with the direction yourself. Put together a plan and present it to your manager.

A good company culture welcomes this initiative. 

Scrap what no longer fits

As of this writing, the pandemic we're in is changing everything. It is the lens we must all filter through. While it's noble to think business can go on as usual, the fact is not all of it should. 

Sorry, huggers. 

Playfulness aside, what are the events/programs that now seem unnecessary, out of place, or just not the best use of time? Don't be afraid to set them aside. Stay focused on the work with the greatest potential payoff.  

Check in with your team (and not just about the work)

"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
American aphorism

More than ever, your team needs to know you care about them as people. The better you manage your own stress (e.g., getting enough sleep, taking regular breaks), the more empathic you'll be toward theirs. 

So when you start staff meetings, for example, take a moment to let everyone check in. Build this into the agenda, so no one feels as though they're wasting the group's time.

Let people voice their fears, family issues, financial stress, or whatever else comes up. You don't have to solve these issues -- I'm not sure how anyone could.

But let people be heard. Acknowledge their difficulties. Show a human side. This is another opportunity for you to lead by example. 

For better or worse, how you treat others in the lowest moments of their lives will be remembered long after the event. It will become the lens through which your leadership is seen and evaluated.

Find meaningful ways to be flexible

Working from home can be tough enough. Why not let some good come out of it?

I know of one boss who told her team, "It's okay to take a laundry break." She's focused on results, not whether someone threw in a load of towels at 8:01 or came back from lunch at 1:03.

And if you talk to people who work from home, many will tell you their lunch breaks are brief -- nowhere near the typical 60 minutes. 

Incidentally, the same boss who normalized laundry breaks also encourages her employees to take a 30-minute walk each day. 

As a manager, you have the power to make life a little easier for your team -- from when you schedule meetings to how you encourage work-life balance. The right team will repay you with great work.

Cut thy neighbor some slack 

Anytime stress runs high, it's easy to lose patience. Especially when technology is involved. But that's when patience is needed most.

So before you hop on a call, join the next videoconference, or hit Send, take a moment to check yourself. Is what you're about to do or say something you will later regret? Or something that will diminish trust?

If so, let it go.

Think of a person or situation that sometimes triggers your impatience. What's one way you could rehearse having more patience -- or prevent the situation altogether? 

Find the opportunity

"Don't waste a good crisis."
Bill O'Hanlon

The opportunity may be to make a greater contribution, better serve customers, work more efficiently -- or it may be in the realm of professional development. 

Here's an easy way to increase employee engagement, even during a prolonged crisis:

As part of your team check-ins, have each person identify ahead of time at least one professional development opportunity they can share with the group -- something they themselves have committed to.


  • Reading a particular business book they've been meaning to get to -- or enjoying the audiobook 
  • Summarizing an article that will benefit the group and help them work more effectively
  • Enrolling in a free or low-cost online course that will increase their contribution

If you want to emphasize self-care instead of professional development, why not? The same activity can work for either one -- and either one will help your team come through this crisis, stronger than before.



Speaking of check-ins: How are you doing?
What's troubling you right now? What's sustaining you?

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