The critical skill of crisis management.

Alexanne Riggle Blog, Lead Others, Lead Yourself

Leading with empathy when the going gets tough.

At some point, all leaders experience a crisis. 

A crisis can take many forms, from a failed product launch to an economic downturn. It can be as far-reaching as a global pandemic, or as personal as the loss of a team member.

Tough times bring out the best and worst in people, and you can’t always predict how individuals will react. Some may struggle more than you expect, while others may surprise you with their resiliency. 

During a crisis, a leader’s job is to support their employees, customers, and the larger community they serve, according to their respective needs. How do you accomplish this? Through empathy and communication, says Jonathan Blum, Founder of Bad Martha Beer and former Yum! Brands S.V.P., Chief Public Affairs Office. Here are his tips for steady-handed leadership when the worst happens. 

Employees. Supporting your employees begins with reaching out to them regularly. These check-ins should be separate from other work-related communications, such as project updates. Rather, focus on three simple but critical questions: (1) How are you doing? (2) How is your family? (3) Is there anything we can do for you? Of course, it’s not enough just to ask. Once you establish that someone requires assistance, you must take action. For example, an employee experiencing acute stress may need a plan to manage their workload or to take time off to safeguard their physical and mental health.

Customers. Your loyal customers will appreciate hearing from you in troubled times. In addition to asking after their well-being, it’s important to provide them with practical support throughout any disruptions to regular business. Get in front of potential questions, such as how to access your products or services during this period. Consider offering special discounts or a payment plan to those experiencing short-term financial challenges. When in doubt about how best to assist your customers, ask them. Pick up the phone, send an email, engage through social media, or conduct surveys to find out how you can better meet their needs. 

Community. When a crisis hits the community in which you operate, some members may be disproportionately affected. Identify the areas of need within your community by talking to local officials or organizations serving the vulnerable. Ask—never assume—how you can most effectively contribute to relief efforts. This might include donating funds or products, volunteering services, or amplifying information about how and where to get help through your company’s platforms.  

When you take care of your employees, customers, and community, the people around you will feel valued and empowered. You may even inspire others towards acts of kindness, compassion, and connection. 

This empathy-oriented approach to leadership is an essential part of the “me to we” philosophy David writes about in his book Taking People With You. If you start from a place of understanding and take meaningful action to improve people’s lives, your team may not only weather a crisis, but emerge from it stronger than ever.

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