Servpro CIO: Strengthen 5 leadership traits during this crisis

The best leaders consider the needs of their employees first. Take this opportunity to step up and lead through the pandemic with humility and humanity
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Most days, our jobs as leaders are simple: Keep profits up and keep our employees, customers, and other stakeholders happy.

But the coronavirus pandemic has made leadership these days more complicated. The threat of COVID-19 is existential and extremely real, and it’s causing stress for everyone, both at work and at home.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to help our organizations get through this crisis and show that we can handle what’s happening. To do this effectively, focus on strengthening the following five leadership traits:

1. Courage

Courage is a defining trait of a leader. Think of great American leaders such as George Washington, Frederick Douglass, and others: They all looked a situation in the eye, acknowledged their fear, and decided to carry on anyway.

[ IT leaders in our community are sharing advice on navigating this crisis. Read Crisis leadership: How to overcome anxiety. ]

Harvard Business School professor and author Nancy Koehn posits that courage is crucial for handling a crisis: “At times, leading an organization is about an ongoing encounter with one’s own fears, and the fears of one’s people. A lot of leaders who take on the amount of responsibility and accountability that goes with being the CEO of a company will encounter fear and have to figure out how to deal with it,” she writes.

In times of crisis, it may be tempting to bury your head in the sand. But that would never be an option for myself and my colleagues leading SERVPRO. We are in the business of helping others recover from an emergency or crisis. It is literally our job to restore lives and livelihoods after catastrophes strike.

It is imperative that we recognize a situation for what it is, understand the whole process from causation to outcome, and work together to create a solution. Step by step, the solution becomes possible – but only if you face it head-on and exhibit the courage to see it through.

2. Competence

In times of crisis, employees look to trusted leaders and mirror their behaviors. But to win employee trust, leaders must show competence.

In the working world, competence is about being good at a job. However, launching a new consumer website or doubling last quarter’s sales means little when your employees fear that their way of life is being threatened.

Launching a new consumer website or doubling last quarter’s sales means little when your employees fear that their way of life is being threatened.

In such situations, leaders should exhibit competence by relying on expert opinions and maintaining a sense of calm. During times like these, “emotional competence” is just as important as tactical competence.

Open communication with employees is key, but be thoughtful and rigorous about the information you share. Spreading inaccurate or incomplete information only escalates worry. Utilize reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and local health departments to share relevant and timely information with your teams.

Likewise, be available to your employees – especially in remote working environments – if they have a question or need encouragement. My team knows I’m available to address questions or concerns during normal times, and even more so now.

3. Communication

Strong communication can result in more productive staff, shorter meetings, and an overall better understanding of company goals. IT professionals are no strangers to working remotely – many of our employees thrive on it – but now is a good time to revisit how your methods are working and if there are improvements or enhancements that can be made without further disrupting workflow.

[ Help your employees feel psychologically safe. Read Crisis leadership: How to give people psychological safety. ]

At a minimum, review your current communication systems, supplement current systems where it makes sense, and conduct any necessary training. In a recent article in Inc., communications expert Elise Keith suggests a daily group video chat, as getting everyone together at once ensures that everyone has the most accurate, up-to-date information. I also find these are good opportunities to be together and talk through things, even in a virtual setting.

Keith cites the efficacy of daily briefing calls, which are used by the military during wartime: “[They are] credited with breaking down silos and enabling the rapid coordination required for multiple parties to successfully adapt their strategy on the fly.”

Maintaining open, ongoing communication during times like these is critical to not only keep the business going, but also from a teambuilding standpoint. Check in regularly to discuss projects, but also to remind each other that you are a team and together you will get through this.

4. Flexibility

Now is not the time to be a stickler for rules. Review your organization’s travel, sickness, and remote working policies, ask staff for feedback, and bend the rules where it makes sense.

Servpro has franchisees and staff members on the front line every day of the week, professionally servicing facilities throughout the country to rid them of this virus. We are making ourselves available to ensure that our clients have what they need to do their job and maintain their own health and well-being.

That means we don’t necessarily have strict schedules and we need to be lenient on gathering some data and information. But that’s okay. It’s more important that our team members get their job done well and that we ensure the health and safety of those on the front lines than it is to meet a specific deadline.

5. Empathy

The best leaders think about their employees as people first. In times of crisis, the role of a leader is to encourage and invest in your people. Employees who feel valued during such times will remember that when things return to normal. Today's challenges offer opportunities to learn more about your industry, other industries, innovative products or services other companies are using, and much more. I’ve encouraged my team to learn whatever they can from this situation and look for ways our own company could improve how we do business and how we serve others.

Empathize with those on your team and everywhere else, keeping in mind that we are all dealing with a situation that's unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Likewise, I’m giving my employees space when they need it. More than ever, this pandemic reminds us of the importance of being there for one another. Many of us are struggling with fear and uncertainty about our health, our economy, and our way of life. Empathize with those on your team and everywhere else, keeping in mind that we are all dealing with a situation that’s unlike anything we have ever experienced. Acknowledge that different employees have different needs, and give them space to cope, to question, to think, or just be.

Throughout the difficult days ahead, remember that crises also have a way of bringing out the best in people. Take the opportunity to step up and lead with strength, confidence, humility, and humanity. This is a time to focus on people, not profit.

Together, we will make it to the other side.

[ Want to build your leadership EQ? See 10 emotional intelligence must-reads for leaders. ]

Jeff Fields has served as the Chief Information Officer for SERVPRO since 2012. In 2019, he was appointed Vice President.