Leading through tragedy


Leadership is not always ‘business as usual’, even when there are targets to hit and projects to complete. Things go wrong all the time, in the personal lives of your team, right up to a national or global scale. No doubt, if you cast your mind over the last month alone in your own leadership, you would be able to pinpoint a few difficult situations that have affected your organisation. Managers need to know how to lead when life throws us some curveballs. 

As many Australians come off the back of one of the most tumultuous summers ever, perhaps these crises are on our minds more than usual. There have been plenty of global/national issues, including bushfires, floods and the threat of COVID-19. Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are also significant stressors for organisations. 

Other times, the crisis can come from the business itself — restructuring, leadership transition, downsizing or redundancy can all have significant impacts on individual teams in an organisation. 

Even closer to home, the death of a team member, a scary diagnosis or the death of a loved one can mean that your team members are struggling with their own emotions and looking to their leader for guidance and hope. 

Communication creates calm 

In the wake of a tragedy or a crisis, it’s easy for teams to panic. It’s even easier for panic to set in when information isn’t being distributed effectively. 

This is exactly the same principle as a fire drill — they might seem like a bore at the time, but their purpose is to make sure every single person knows where they need to go, what their role is and how an evacuation will play out in the event of a fire. When a fire does occur, the natural response for any human is to panic, but, with the fire drill in the back of your mind, you can start to move towards the exits and follow the procedure. 

It’s crucial that leaders remember this approach through any crisis. Whether you’re dealing with natural disaster, organisational change and redundancy, or the death of an employee, teams are less fearful when they can be sure that leadership is keeping them informed and when speculation is kept to a minimum. 

Compassionate leadership is essential 

Everyone wants to know they are a valued member of the team. Experiencing trauma and tragedy is a part of being human and it requires a human response from leaders. 

Showing kindness in words and in action is extremely important and it sets the example for the rest of your team as they grapple with how they should respond to a crisis. For example, leaders can make sure they’re getting information across to their team in a myriad of ways, but the most compassionate, in times of crisis, would be to speak to your team in person. Seeing real emotions, reading body language and facial expressions is a much more human way to communicate when it’s possible rather than an email or even a phone call. 

There are a million ways leaders can be showing compassion in difficult times. From the way you use your words — avoid using business jargon or referring to productivity, even if it’s on your mind — to the way you anticipate the needs of your team e.g. in the case of the death of an employee, providing a grief counsellor for your team would be a great way to show compassion. 

Every situation is different — the challenges facing one team will be different to those facing another team in a very similar situation but you can ask yourself if you’re communicating clearly with your team and offering up help in a practical way. 

If your organisation is dealing with a crisis and you want to lead your team compassionately, People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit www.pmtd.com.au or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.