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After Crises, It’s Time for Leaders to Lead

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Chris Testa's picture
President, Testa Search Partners

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The recent domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol reminded me of how I felt as a young supervisor during the 9/11 incident. Given the chaos that ensued after the attacks in NY and DC, my employees were seeking direction and someone to talk to, and I myself was looking for advice and counsel from my management. Unfortunately there was silence from our executive ranks as it appeared to be business as usual. We were left to fend for ourselves with no direction. Deciding to step up and lead, I told my employees to go home if they needed to, that work can wait until tomorrow. I myself couldn’t focus on work and had to get home and call my loved ones.

January's attack on the Capitol isn’t much different. Your employees are all different, and each of them probably went through different emotions. Some probably couldn’t work that day. Others possibly cried at the scenes that unfolded before their eyes. Others were angry at the racial injustice they were witnessing. Yet other employees may have felt it was best to stay busy and work. Each of your employees was probably looking for guidance, direction, or an avenue to share their feelings.

As a leader, during times of crisis, it is best to be visible in the workplace. It is ok to have tough conversations at work! Show you care by visiting or calling your employees. Let people communicate their feelings in one-on-one or group sessions. Try to have conversations about racism, civil unrest, and our democracy. Offer up employee assistance programs. Rather than assume there is nothing we can do, talk about what your company can do. Recognize that some employees may be raw with emotion and you should be there to provide support. Be quick to listen and calmly respond in a sympathetic manner. If needed, solicit the help of your HR team or outside experts.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t do nothing. Don’t assume it is business as usual, because in times of crisis, it really isn’t.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 4, 2021

Lessons quite applicable in Texas, right about now!

Thanks for sharing, Chris. 

Question-- the type of leadership needed will naturally vary based on who's being led and what that role is, right? In the Texas example I'm thinking about the difference in government leaders vs. utility leaders vs. regulators vs. community leaders-- how and where they respond will differ based on who they serve and how. How does that relationship change what should be done in time of crisis? 

Chris Testa's picture
Chris Testa on Mar 5, 2021

Hi Matt,

Insightful questions.  I'd love to hear other people's feedback too.  My thoughts are that while there are differences in the types of leaders you mentioned, at a high level the same thing applies - be sympathetic, listen to understand, provide forums for people to express their feelings, and be visible.  An example of what not to do is when politicians flee their constituents to vacation during a time of crisis!

Chris Testa's picture
Thank Chris for the Post!
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