Today, many leaders must make rapid decisions about controlling costs and maintaining liquidity. They may encounter unforeseen roadblocks — supply chain issues, team shortages, and operational challenges — that drastically alter the scope of their roles and priorities. All the while, they and their teams are navigating health and safety concerns, working remotely, and supporting their families through the pandemic. This is not an easy transition. Those in charge will be tested in areas where they have not fully developed their leadership muscles, and the learning curve will be steep. They will need coaching from their own bosses and others.

Having conducted more than 21,000 leadership assessments among C-suite executives, the research team at ghSMART has learned that to move forward in a crisis, leaders need to cultivate four behaviors in themselves and their teams. They must decide with speed over precision, adapt boldly, reliably deliver, and engage for impact. The tactics below can guide you as you coach your leaders in these key behaviors.

Behavior 1: Decide with speed over precision.
The situation is changing by the day — even by the hour. The best leaders quickly process available information, rapidly determine what matters most, and make decisions with conviction. During a crisis, cognitive overload looms; information is incomplete, interests and priorities may clash, and emotions and anxieties run high. Analysis paralysis can easily result, exacerbated by the natural tendency of matrixed organizations to build consensus. Leaders must break through the inertia to keep the organization trained on business continuity today while increasing the odds of mid- to long-term success by focusing on the few things that matter most. A simple, scalable framework for rapid decision-making is critical.

You and your leaders should:

  • Define priorities. Identify and communicate the three to five most important ones. Early in the crisis, those might include employee safety and care, financial liquidity, customer care, and operational continuity. Document the issues identified, ensure that leadership is fully aligned with them, and make course corrections as events unfold.
  • Make smart trade-offs. What conflicts might arise among the priorities you have outlined? Between the urgent and the important? Between survival today and success tomorrow? Instead of thinking about all possibilities, the best leaders use their priorities as a scoring mechanism to force trade-offs.
  • Name the decision makers. In your central command “war room,” establish who owns what. Empower the front line to make decisions where possible, and clearly state what needs to be escalated, by when, and to whom. Your default should be to push decisions downward, not up.
  • Embrace action, and don’t punish mistakes. Missteps will happen, but our research indicates that failing to act is much worse.
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Authors: Chris Nichols, Shoma Chatterjee Hayden and Chris Trendler, Harvard Business Review
Photo: Andy Roberts/Getty Images