through Times of Crisis with Empathy and Resilience
uncertainty stretches out ahead of us, organizational leaders
around the world must find ways to continually transition
through crisis situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic,
civil unrest, natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes
and other disruptive events.
Japanese language has two characters for the word crisis.
One means dangerous and the second is opportunity. How can
you as a leader embody empathy for the concerns, worries
and fears of employees, yet embrace opportunities? Renowned
business leader John Maxwell has said, “Leadership
is about influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
How can you be a leader of influence during this time?
are three Ps to keep in mind as you lead through times
– How you start determines how you finish. As
a leader, your position is above the fray. Find ways
to place yourself here.
– What is yours as you prepare to move into the
next phase? One suggestion is compassion mixed with
expansion. Meaning, the ability to empathize with the
variety of emotions your team may be facing while keeping
your goals and boundaries in place.
– What do you feel yours may be? Many leaders
are driven by a desire to create and maintain a safe
where staff can be heard, and remain accountable for
deadlines and productivity.
position, perspective and purpose will be like a lighthouse.
They will keep you grounded and help orient others.
Types of Change
we’ve all become aware, change is the one thing we
can count on. However, there are different kinds of change.
Change – Changes that happen to you, over which
you have little or perhaps no control (i.e. quarantine
mandates, policy changes, etc.).
Change – Changes you decide to make and then attempt
to implement; the main difference is that you have control
or influence over the process (i.e. accepting a new
job, pursuing further education, getting married, etc.).
Change – Changes that you encourage or allow through
your personal transformation (i.e. workplace changes
you choose to support, relationships, etc.).
yourself the following question, “What types of challenges
do people experience during times of imposed change?”
Think about the specific challenges of this pandemic, social
unrest, natural disasters, and other unexpected situations.
What comes to mind for you? For your returning staff?
responses may include uncertainty, uncontrolled expectations,
low motivation, resistance to change, stress, frustration,
fear, role ambiguity and maintaining productivity. These
reactions to change are normal and to be expected. Validating
these emotions in yourself and your employees will help
with moving through the stages
Change vs. Transition
it’s important to distinguish the differences between
change and transition. Change is external or situational
(i.e. the new office, the new boss, the new team roles,
the new policy). Transition is the internal or psychological
process people go through to come to terms with their new
situation. Change happens to things and transition happens
now, you’re leading your team and organization through
a transformative time in society, while also personally
experiencing several changes and transitions. As a leader,
it is important for you to know yourself and your strengths
and weaknesses. Do what you do well, empower and value others,
have a positive attitude toward others and establish trust
with your team. People want leaders they can follow, especially
adaptability. Change will inevitably continue. So, what
can we do as individuals?
that transition can be difficult. Therefore, people
need to take steps to care for themselves and their
that someone’s thoughts and feelings about an
event may determine their actions.
what you can and release what you can’t.
connections at work and in your personal life that
help support and re-energize you.
that even in tough times, it’s necessary and
beneficial to the organization and one’s career
to continue to do good work.
perspective. Even if the change brings about a great
deal of challenge, there are always ways to advance
people rely on inner personal resilience and believe
they have the skills and resources to make the change.
is the human capacity to deal with, overcome, learn from
or even be transformed by adversity. It’s the ability
to bounce back or be flexible. As a leader, you can encourage
resiliency by summoning the traits we most admire in other
agents of transition.
Stages & Action Plans
is a graph showing the emotional transition people make
in response to upheaval or change. It’s important
to understand where you are
as well as where those you lead are. Keep in mind that no
two people respond and transition to change in the same
way. It is a highly individual, personal process.
Stages of Transition model (adapted from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s
work on personal transition in grief and bereavement) describes
the four stages people typically go through as they adjust
a change is first introduced, people’s initial reaction
may be shock or denial as they react to challenges to the
status quo (Stage 1).
the reality of the change starts to hit, people tend to
react negatively and move to Stage 2, resistance or fear.
Commonly in this stage, people feel angry and actively resist
or protest against the changes. It’s been said by
many religious leaders and observed in the fields of psychology
and social work that ‘hurt people hurt people.’ Sometimes
people turn their anger outwards, sometimes inwards.
3, exploration, is where pessimism and resistance give way
to some optimism and a willingness to explore.
Stage 4, people have come to accept the changes and start
to embrace them. They rebuild their ways of working. Only
when people get to this stage can the organization really
start to reap the benefits of change.
important to realize that people may vacillate between stages.
For example, they may get information during Stage 3 that
feels threatening and move back to Stage 2. In addition,
people may get stuck in a stage, especially Stage 2, and
possibly never move to adaptation. Or, if the change is
welcomed, people may move straight to adaptation.
people respond is directly related to factors such as their
personal history with change, the amount of support they
feel and their ability to adapt. Your team members could
fall anywhere along this continuum.
a leader, focus on strengths and let your employees know
what you notice them doing well. Encourage exemplary attitudes.
Look for ways to highlight and support the positive ways
your team is coming together. Finally, model the mindsets
and actions you want your team to emulate.
team wants to be led right now. They are watching, waiting
and wondering. Model what you want emulated and what you
want to be replicated. Be flexible and bend with the changes.
Don’t be beholden to a highly specific outcome. Space
is your friend, it’s for the unexpected, for voices
to be heard, for safe ways of operating and reaching goals.
Create boundaries around time, personal space, deadlines
a shifting landscape, your team wants to know where they
stand, and if possible, where they are headed in the weeks,
months and even years to come. Being available and visible
as a leader will help through transitions and so will your
words. Choose them wisely. They create the climate you and
your team work in and create in. Words help build worlds.
We are all in a phase with a great opportunity, not only
to recreate a healthy world but to thrive amid change and
Sumiec will expand on the
topic of leading with resilience and empathy during a session
on November 16 at the C2HR CONference. Register
now to attend.
addition, there are numerous articles on crisis leadership
in the C2HR