Leading during crises is difficult. And for most of us, our natural reactions can get us in trouble fast. We want to reassure, get the answers figured out quickly, and satisfy everyone who is watching.
Against our nature
Of course, a crisis is challenging. In some cases, the viability of our business is on the line. If we get it wrong, the company fails. It is no surprise then that knowing this raises our anxiety levels to the degree that we may struggle to make the right decisions. (See How does anxiety short circuit the decision-making process? for a helpful Psychology Today article on the neurology of this topic.) In short, we know that when we are anxious, our brain works against us.
On the one hand, different people have different reactions. Some speed-up, rushing their decision-making process. They feel compelled to get settled and move on. Some parts of this are helpful, and some not.
One the other hand, there are those that slow down their decision-making to a crawl. Careful deliberation, too, can have some good to it and some bad. Let’s dig into these tendencies to sort out what decisions we should make quickly and which ones to take our time on.
Leading during crises by speeding up
During crises, many aspects of making the right decisions require quick actions. Time is critical in some areas. (Here is an article making that argument: Anxiety and the Power of Quick Decisions: How Speeding up Your Decision-Making Can Lower Anxiety.)
Some aspects of leading during crises that require rapid response. Let’s look at where that is so.
Settle on your decision-making team
Getting your team of advisors together should be your top priority. We cannot make the right decisions alone. We need help. And if you are a solo practitioner, then you need to build an informal network of other clinicians or perhaps contract with a consultant to help with your deliberations.
Get a structure for deliberation
Set up your meeting and phone call schedule. There are times when a crisis will require daily phone calls for a while. Schedule it for your decision-making team. We cannot make the right decisions with hallway conversations. Use the technology available.
In 1991, I was the Legislative Chair as we were attempting to pass licensure for marriage and family therapists in Illinois. The internet existed, but it was not what it is now. I made a nightly phone call to our lobbyist in the state capital for three months straight. He taught me that constant communication was the way to get it done. We succeeded, though it took six legislative votes and countless phone calls organizing things.
Get your communication methods in place
More than at any time, leading during crises requires an intense level of communication. At times, practice owners or managers should have a daily message. Communication is critical during the current Coronavirus crisis. All private practices are actively rebuilding their business models to include teletherapy. Even those who have been knee-deep in teletherapy are finding that the reimbursement systems are changing daily. Staff are anxious. Some are worried if they will have a job.
Daily messaging requires the various methods to get the word out quickly. I love MailChimp as a great e-newsletter tool, but it could be just a group email list. My practice went a step further. We developed a secure online messaging system that we now use all the time. One can easily message groups and subgroups within our organization without messing with email addresses. Highgate Creative built it, and we love it.
Match the speed of disseminating information to the level of anxiety
Perhaps it is obvious, but in times of crisis, it is critical to speed up the pace at which you send out information to staff and clients. My rule of thumb is this.
During a crisis, provide daily communication until everyone is calming down, and we are no longer hearing the panic in staff’s voices.
They are looking to their leader to reassure them that all will be okay. That is part of what leading during crises means.
When you know the answer, take action
When we found out that the Coronavirus was not going away soon, it was time for action. The support staff signed up our 45 clinicians on a teletherapy platform. There was no delay. There was no reason to wait. The situation was clear. Action was required. There is a time to deliberate and a time for action.
Leading during crises by slowing down
There are also some areas we should not speed up but rather we should slow down. We may hope that speeding up will get us through the challenges quicker. Sadly, it rarely works that way. Crises have a timing of their own.
Leading during crises is about “surfing the wave” without wiping out.
And it can be super exhilarating or completely disastrous to catch the “big one.” In my view, surfing the wave is about keeping everyone on the same page including your leadership team, your staff, and your clients. Here is how to do that.
Slow the pace of conversation in leadership meetings and calls
When facing a crisis, we want deliberation that leads to consensus. We must take the time that it takes to get there. When we feel rushed, we tend to make worse decisions. Yes, that may mean leaving a meeting with things unresolved. That is rarely worse than rushing a decision without everyone on board. The process of decision-making needs to be slow, thoughtful, and intentional.
Be slow to settle on answers
Take the time required to collect the information needed for the right decision. For example, when deciding on a teletherapy platform, please read the reviews. Take the time to talk to people who are doing teletherapy. Listen to their experiences. And more than anything, wait for your leadership team to get on board. There is a reason they are on the leadership team. Trust the group. If you have the right people in the room, you will get the correct answers.
And now the Coronavirus
The Coronavirus is just the latest challenge for outpatient mental health. We have survived many others. (See below for some crises that I have written about before.) We will survive this too.
If your leadership process is a good one, you will get the right answers. Leading during crises is really about the right process, the right people, and the right structure for making the right choices.
Here is a checklist you can use to see how you are doing.
- a clear leadership group making decisions together
- a good structure of meetings and phone calls for deliberating our options
- excellent communication methods that we use regularly
- increased our pace of communicating as anxiety rises in our group
- a nice pacing of our leadership communications. The deliberations are going well
- done a good job of being careful in our decisions and communication and therefore we have not had to back up and change course very often
Congratulations, if you can check these off. You get an A+
Let me know how it is going.